From South Carolina to the Northern Sea of Galilee
The perpetrators of the vicious hate crime against the historic church at Tabgha are the ones who are the idol worshippers
It’s not the same, good people will say to me. There’s no connection between the arson attack on the historic Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes on the Sea of Galilee and the murderous rampage at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. All religions and races have fanatics; there are lunatics everywhere, good people will say.
But it doesn’t take a much closer look to see the line between the hate crime in Charleston early on Wednesday evening U.S. time, and the hate crime on the Sea of Galilee early Wednesday morning Israel time; and it might be a straighter one than many good people wish to imagine. The thought is almost too chilling to bear: In a place where they burn church buildings (and hundreds of books, according to the media), lives could someday be snuffed out, to paraphrase the poet.
Storage rooms, office space, roof beams, wooden doors and a reception room of the church were torched beyond repair; a 19-year-old tourist and a 79-year-old volunteer were slightly injured from smoke inhalation, the media reported. Graffiti was also spray painted, in Hebrew, the holy tongue, on the wall: Elilim khrot yikhartun.
This phase is from a prayer that observant Jews repeat three times a day, known as the “Aleinu.” It begins: “It is our duty to praise the Master of all, to acclaim the greatness of the One who forms all creation.” It then goes on to state: “For God did not make us like the nations of other lands, and did not make us the same as other families of the Earth. God did not place us in the same situations as others, and our destiny is not the same as anyone else’s.” Later on it says: “Therefore we put our hope in You, Adonai our God, to soon see the glory of Your strength, to remove all idols from the Earth, and to completely cut off all false gods; to repair the world…”
Elilim khrot yikhartum means “completely cut off all false gods.”
The perpetrators are the idol worshippers. These few extremists are the ones with the false gods. The idol worshippers are also those who teach them that this act – so fundamentally wrong – is fundamentally right.
Just hours after the fire, 16 yeshiva students were arrested on suspicion of involvement. The police were unable to tie any of them to the crime, and they were all released. But would anything have changed even if they had been charged? Churches and mosques in this country have been suffering for years now from increasing acts of vandalism – 17 Christian and Muslim places of worship in the past three years, according to Haaretz. But charges have yet to be brought against anyone. Will this change now?
The Israeli police recently arrested dozens of people involved in organized crime. The police and the Shin Bet security service are experts at finding the people who plot, who throw stones, who steal computer files from the army, who kidnap and murder. Many have been charged and punished for their crimes. Surely, this spate of vicious vandalism is a challenge they can meet just as well.
Let us urge the authorities: Find the perpetrators, and weed out the so-called rabbis who teach these travesties. They are so few – among so many people of all faiths in this land and around the world who show us daily and hourly how to love our fellow humans. Prosecute those few extremists to the fullest extent of the law. That seems to be the only way they will learn one of the most basic tenets of our faith and culture: In the ancient words of Rabbi Hillel: “Do not do unto others what is hateful unto you. All the rest is commentary; go and learn.”
Good people will speak, good people will write. But that’s really nothing. And we all know what happens when good people do nothing.