Thursday, September 3, 2015

"For her I weep" - mourning Shira Banki : A postscript

Reb Daniel,

I am including this background note regarding my Jerusalem Post article about the murder of Shira Banki at the Gay Pride Parade. Please feel free to share it.

When Shira Banki was murdered by Yishai Schlissel I perceived an ambivalent response from the frum community here in ארץ ישראל and online. I was disturbed by an apparent lack of outrage, empathy, sadness or despair. While the frum community was not to blame for her murder - there was no incitement -  I believe we were at fault for our uncertain reaction. After numerous orthodox publications declined my oped, I decided to publish in the Jerusalem Post to express my sorrow and to encourage mourning her unjustified murder. After publication, a רבי I admire admonished me for publishing criticism of the frum community in a secular newspaper and I accept his rebuke. My intention was to inspire members of our broader community and not to disparage us on a public stage.

As a postscript to my article, when I went to be מנחם אבל her family, Shira's father was grateful for my consolation but adamant that his family wanted more than just my tears. In that context I could not share with him how I oppose the parade and at the same time mourn his daughter's horrific fate. To me, it is clear that one can be opposed to the parade and still horrified and saddened by her murder. I believe mourning Shira's death and visiting her family are natural responses to the tragedy and wonder why few in our community felt the same. As I heard afterward in the name of Rav Moshe Shapiro, "when one is killed שלא כדין it is רציחה and the דין of נחום אבלים applies." Hers was a remarkable murder under remarkable circumstances that should not have been met with silence.

To be clear, how to relate publicly to the LGBT community is a complex topic and I am in no position to endorse an opinion on the matter. Still, when an unjustified murder occurs publicly in the name of הלכה, I do believe that responding with compassion is appropriate, respectable and ultimately, a קדוש השם.

כתיבה וחתימה טובה,


For her I weep


The author is a rabbi and family therapist in Jerusalem, where he maintains a private practice working with adults and children.

There was no announcement about young Shira’s funeral in my neighborhood, no acknowledgment of her talents gone lost.

If a sixteen-year-old Jewish girl was murdered under any other circumstances than Shira Banki was in Jerusalem last week, our reaction as a community would have been different. That her ideological killing was met by ambivalence and not simply sorrow, so soon after Tisha Be’av, reflects how unfocused we have become. Shira’s unspeakable homicide should be met with tears and not with commentary. Her death should be mourned and not disregarded or explained.

There was no announcement about young Shira’s funeral in my neighborhood, no acknowledgment of her talents gone lost. At best I sensed disinterest. At worst I heard rationale. For some, the context of young Shira’s murder became cause for ignoring it. Others seized the opportunity to assign her community blame. Missing was our lamentation. Absent was our despair. There should be no uncertainty about young Shira’s assassination, no ambiguity about her Jewish blood spilled. “All her friends have betrayed her,” said Isaiah. Disregarding young Shira’s execution is akin to condoning her death.

As Jews we are accustomed to crying. The tragedies of history familiarize us all to pain. But there is more than oppression in our hardship, more than persecution in our fate. Survival has demanded our caution. Vigilance has contributed to our alarm. Exile, it seems, has looted our affections, robbed us of our sensibility and goodwill.

Alongside our grief lies confusion. Alongside our anguish looms mistrust. Not reacting to Shira’s murder indicates cowardice, not daring. Not recoiling from her death reveals weakness, not strength.

Satan must be laughing. In our zeal to uphold morals we have neglected ethics. In our defense of principles we have abandoned ideals. When a murdered Jew evokes anything but sadness we have strayed. When compassionate ones are apathetic we have blundered.

There is a time for debate and a time for weeping. A time for protest and a time for distress. Pretending Shira’s murder did not happen will not bring decency to Jerusalem. Dishonoring Shira’s slaughter with interpretation should not make anyone feel proud.

The scandal of Shira’s death is how predictably it exposed our vulnerability, how intolerably righteous was the indignation it, in some, aroused. Instead of human kindness, an unnatural detachment prevailed that was defensive and offensive both. Anticipating bigotry, some placed their self-justifying agenda first by insisting the community was not liable for a madman.

Others terribly suggested – with words or intentional silence – the anomalous evil was not worth bemoaning. While none proposed its permissibility, few people I know were outraged. Few unambiguously shed tears. Condolences were cursory and scarce.

The circumstances of Shira’s life need not be affirmed to justify bewailing her death. Her attitudes and behavior can be questioned. Her motives can be even denounced. Grieving, however, should be unfettered by opinion, unbound by the dispassion of thought.

Tears can fall with no reason. Sobbing can happen with no remark. The event behind her homicide may be regrettable but being numb to Shira’s slaying is something worse. A sister lay bloodied in our city. A daughter fell butchered in His name.

Tolerance is the call of our times and its demand is complicated to heed or to deny.

The divine image seems more varied than we knew.

Apologies may be gratuitous for what was said before her murder but introspection is needed for what came to mind after Shira died. To imagine Shira’s death was warranted is shameless. To ignore young Shira’s death is no less a sentiment of conceit. “Detestable are the proud of heart,” said Solomon. Exile is a time of reflection, humility, doubt. In our hurry to be right we may have wronged. In our rush to not condone we have condemned.

Like orphans without fathers we know how it feels to be frightened. Like widows without husbands we know how it feels to be alone. To be forsaken is to be endowed no security. To be rejected is to be afforded no hope. Banishment is cruel. With abandonment comes unrest and uncertainty. With confusion comes fear and disgust. Like countless victims before her Shira is a casualty of exile, of the disaster that arises from instability and hate. But not everything is controversial, not everything unclear. Shira deserves regard because she did not deserve her fortune. Shira deserves our notice, if not for how she lived then for how she died. As on Tisha Be’av our trust is in our yielding. As on Tisha Be’av our prayer is in our cry.

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