I didn’t even hear about the massacre in Norway until Sunday night. When it occurred on Friday, I was too busy with my Shabbos preparations to check the news on the internet. Saturday night, I didn’t even turn on my computer, and I don't have a television. Sunday night, one of the women who attends a class in my home mentioned that a right-wing terrorist had gone on a shooting spree in Norway and many people were dead, but after the class I was too tired to look at the news.
Finally, on Monday night, I went online. First, I looked up the latest developments in the Leiby Kletzky murder case. I read the statement issued by Leiby’s parents after the shiva. It was followed by a sampling of the thousands of condolence messages received by the Kletzkys. One in particular caught my eye, and then my heart. It was from an Arab woman in Qatar. It read:
“My deepest condolences to the parents, especially Leiby’s mother. As a mother of 2 boys, I know what a long, long journey it is for a mother to bring up her baby to be 9 years old. To carry a baby for 9 months, give birth, struggle with sleepless nights, ailments, aches and pains, the first step, first smile, first fall, going from milestone to milestone, cheering with them, crying with them, worrying with them, wearing your heart on your sleeve every moment of the day. These are precious moments etched in our hearts forever. And then, suddenly, cruelly and horribly, your child is snatched from you, and in one second your life is completely and utterly destroyed. I pray that God help you find inner strength to cope with this immense tragedy, for the sake of your daughters, your husband and all the others who need you in their lives. I cried for your son, and I cried for your heart that will forever have a piece missing. With deepest sympathy, Carmen Ali from Qatar.”
Then I googled the Norway massacre. I read about the bombing in Oslo and then the shooting spree on Utoya Island, where youth from Norway’s Labor Party were holding a summer camp. I read that 92 people were dead, most of them teenagers. I read that the terrorist was a right-wing extremist who hated Muslims (and apparently a lot of other people). I shook my head, muttered, “How horrible!” and went to bed.
I've been crying over the death of one Jewish child, and I didn’t shed a single tear over the death of dozens of Norwegian children?
This morning, however, when I was doing my heshbon hanefesh (review of yesterday’s spiritual failures and victories), I realized that there was something terribly wrong with my reaction to Norway’s tragedy. For two weeks, ever since the death of Leiby Kletzky, I have been crying over the death of one Jewish child, and I didn’t shed a single tear over the death of dozens of Norwegian children?
With a chill, I realized that this is how people all over the world must have reacted every time we in Israel suffered a massive terror attack. While we were crying and burying our dead, they were shaking their heads, clicking their tongues, and going on to the next news item. What is wrong with them? What is wrong with me? What is wrong with us?
I realized that I was not devastated by Norway’s tragedy because I do not identify with the dozens of mothers who are burying their children this week. After all, what do I have in common with these blond-haired, blue-eyed women with Nordic features who are on the other end of the religious and political spectrum from me?
That’s when I remembered the letter to the Kletzkys from the woman in Qatar. How could she, a Muslim Arab, identify with a Jewish Hasidic woman in Brooklyn? She wrote: “As a mother of 2 boys, I know what a long, long journey it is for a mother to bring up her baby to be 9 years old.” She recounted the common experiences they shared: the pregnancy and birth, the sleepless nights, the ailments.... She stood in Itta Kletsky’s shoes, and she cried with her.
I, too, am a mother. Like Itta Kletsky. Like Carmen Ali. Like the scores of blond-haired Norwegian mothers who will never again embrace their murdered children. Learning from the example of my Muslim sister, I sat there and visualized all we have in common: the jubilation over the child’s first smile, the worry over his first fever, the anxiety over his first day at school. I sat there until I wept for the slain children of Norway.
Let us, the Jewish People, unite again in a message to these stricken parents: We are crying for your children—and for you.
In some ways, these parents are in a worse situation than Leiby Kletzky’s parents. The Kletzkys had a whole community focused on their personal loss. In Norway there are so many dead that each child gets no more than a photo and a short paragraph in the news. Thousands of mourners crowded into the Kletskys’ apartment every day of the seven-day shiva period. In Norway, thousands mourn in the center of Oslo, but how many beat a trail to each victim’s home? Judaism mandates a week of shiva, in which the parents are forbidden to work, bathe, or do anything other than grieve, while people visit them to fulfill the mitzvah of “comforting the mourners.” What did the Norwegian parents do the day after they buried their children? What framework do they have to ease them through the mourning process?
In their public statement, Leiby Kletzky’s parents addressed “all of God’s children around the world who held our dear Leiby in their thoughts and prayers. We pray that none of you should ever have to live through what we did. But if any tragedy is to ever befall any of you, God forbid, you should be blessed with a community and public as supportive as ours. We feel that through Leiby we’ve become family with you all.”
Last Friday, tragedy did befall scores of Norwegian parents, and few of them were “blessed with a community and public as supportive as ours.” Let us, the Jewish People, unite again in a message to these stricken parents: We are crying for your children—and for you.