The Death of an American Teenager Brings Home the Horror of Terrorism

While the US government has been strangely silent on the murder of American teenager Ezra Schwartz by a Palestinian terrorist in Israel, my friends on Facebook have not.

I saw a hashtag this week proclaiming #WeareEzraSchwartz and then I saw a post of Ezra on the shore of the lake at Camp Yavneh, a Jewish summer camp in New Hampshire. It's the same camp I spent four summers at and I don't think any fact about the terrorism inflicted on Israel has had more of an impact for me than that camp photo.

I am not a religious Jew. I am completely a "where are the bagels, lox & cream cheese?" Jew. But Yavneh is a very religious camp. Morning services were held each day and young men wrapped teffilin around their arms and placed them on their heads. You could wear your baseball cap backwards and let the little box hang through the gap where you adjusted the hat. Brachot (blessings) were said at every meal. Before Shabbos, we showered and shaved and dressed better than on an average day. As we left the bunk to head for Friday night services, we turned off the lights and boom boxes. They would not be turned on again until after sundown on Saturday, the end of Shabbos. Do I even need to mention the camp was kosher?

Camp Yavneh was by no means Wet Hot American Summer or Meatballs, but there were times it bore a slight resemblance. There were so many budding romances and the fashion of the eighties makes for good laughs when you look at old camp pictures. I remember someone spiked the kiddush cup with Tabasco, leading to a scene that had tears of laughter rolling down our faces (sorry, Harold). Many of the staff had children at the camp and there was a very strong sense of family.

I couldn't tell you how I ended up at Yavneh, but nearly every kid from my Hebrew school class ended up at Yavneh, Tel Noar, or Tevya for the summer, many--if not most--for the entire summer.

My Facebook friends list is full of people I knew only from camp. Most I had lost touch with but was not surprised for a second to learn which ones had become rabbis or doctors or successful in business. Each has a beautiful family.

I believe all of my friends have fond memories of their Jewish summer camps, despite the broken hearts, twisted ankles, and even some personality clashes. It was a shared experience for so many Jews and to know that Ezra Schwartz shared it also, only to die in a terrorist attack in Israel, brings the danger to Israelis and Jews worldwide that much closer to home . . . and the heart.

American Jews are, by and large, comfortable. We have freedom of religion, even if we choose to go to synagogue only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Yet I fear for Jews in America as I never have before.

As a child at my synagogue, I never felt that way. During my summers at Yavneh, I never felt that way. In my heavily Irish home town, I never encountered any anti-Semitism. Today I see its evidence every day in the media, in the slanted headlines of the BBC, Reuters, and the venerable New York Times.

And now an American teenager from Massachusetts has been killed. Yet I do not see our government voicing its anger. No one talks of bombing the Palestinians back to the Stone Age. Thousands of Israelis have been killed or injured by terrorism. Hundreds of them have been children. Yet the world seems not to care.

Now an American teenager has died in Israel and American Jews suddenly have a new perspective on the violence. Every Jewish-American parent with a child studying or spending time in Israel is now that much more terrified for the safety of his or her child. Many students will be told to come home. But many will not. Many are afraid. Many--perhaps more--are now angry. The distance between Jews in America, where they live in safety and relatively unconcerned about terrorism, and Jews in Israel has just been bridged.

Jewish summer camps are likely not something the average American ever thinks about. But for many of us, that shared experience brings us together in our shared pride of being Jewish, of believing in G-d the way our ancestors did, and means that, in fact, #WeareEzraSchwartz.