Weinreich’s Yiddish-English Dictionary translates mentschlechkeit as humaneness. Mentschlechkeit is the uncanny ability on the part of us Jews to respond to unspeakable grief and tragedy in a mentschlech way, even though we have more than sufficient reason not to.
Mentschlechkeit filled the air this past Tuesday evening here at Tiferet, when well over a hundred individuals, Jew and non-Jew alike, members as well as non-members, came together. Those who showed up were filled with an inner need to deal with a rage that resulted from the savage murder of three innocent teenagers, whose only crime was that they were hitchhiking home to be with their families for Shabbat, after a week of studying at their Yeshivah.
When it comes to mentschlechkeit, we have no shortage of role models. Chief among these role models is Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe’s mentschlechkeit was evident pretty much from day one. When Pharaoh’s daughter discovered a basket floating among the bulrushes near the banks of the Nile, she looked and behold a youth was crying. Shouldn’t the Torah have stated: behold an infant was crying, ask our rabbinic sages? The sages explain that even as an infant, Moshe cried the cry of someone much older. Moshe cried from within; Moshe cried from the heart. For the most part, our cries are no different. Our cries also come from the heart. We’ve accustomed ourselves to crying from our hearts, over the centuries, if not millennia. If mentschlechkeit has taught us anything, it is that when the heart is broken, then our cries must come from the heart as well.
We have every reason to be so very proud of our mentschlechkeit. It has been a most effective response, in that it deprives the enemy of the volatile reaction they crave, in that it seems to give them so much satisfaction. The enemy has been known to murder our teenagers and slaughter our infants, but they are unable to so much as lift a finger when it comes to destroying our mentschlechkeit. And that’s why every Arab resident of Israel knows that he not fear retribution, in that he is protected by Israeli law.
The American government urges restraint. The American government urges that cool heads prevail. Where was American restraint, where did cool heads prevail when shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, well over 100,000 Japanese Americans were uprooted from their homes and sent to internment camps? Arabs in Israel, whether in Ramle or Ramallah or any other location for that matter, can sleep safely and soundly knowing no such fate awaits them. Arabs in Israel, whether in Ramle or Ramallah or any other location for that matter, can sleep safely and soundly knowing that that they are safeguarded by Jewish mentschlechkeit.
While there are any number of decent Palestinians who want nothing more from life, than to go to work and build a better life for themselves and their families and live in peace, other Arabs celebrate horrendous and brutal murder of Israelis by singing and dancing on rooftops. We too sing. Without a doubt, HaTikvah, The Hope, Israel’s national anthem, was sung at virtually every service held this week to memorialize Naftali, Gilad and Eyal. As for dancing? The flames of the candles lit throughout Israel and the rest of the world, in memory of three innocent teenagers are dancing with a purity that is unmatched.