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Fashioned in the Womb

Fashioned in the Womb

Encounters with cruelty and compassion, and the womb that breeds them both.


Rachamim Zidkiyahu is the name of the 51-year-old bus driver who was killed on Tuesday morning in the Jerusalem bus bombing, along with 18 others including an 11-year-old Ethiopian fifth-grader on her way to school. There are so many others, and the list keeps on growing, to our sorrow.

In Jewish thought a name is prophetic, determining and defining a person's character and personal history. In memory and in honor of Rachamim Zidkiyahu, it is our duty to look at his name and understand its meaning and what it tells us about our destiny as a people.

Rachamim is the Hebrew word for compassion. We Jews are a people of compassion. Even now, in the midst of war, Jews are reaching out to the Palestinians, trying to understand their pain, inviting them to work together, to speak together, to study together. We teach our children not to react in violence when they are targeted not just by the Palestinians, but by too many of the world media, who rationalize Arab cruelty as a justified response to expression of "desperation."

Cherie Blair and Ted Turner were but two examples this week of people who refuse to condemn terrorism as inexcusable.

What does compassion mean in our situation? The Hebrew word for womb, rechem, has the same root as the word compassion. The womb is the innermost area of the feminine part of ourselves, the place where life is created and formed.

In the womb of Palestinian culture, Palestinians are being shaped to hate, to pervert their lives and national aspirations into the slaughter of innocent Jews.

Now in the womb of Palestinian culture, Palestinians are being shaped to hate, to pervert their lives and national aspirations into the slaughter of innocent Jews. Too many Palestinian mothers are applauding their children's deaths, appearing in videos the night before suicide attacks clutching rifles like teddy bears, enjoining their sons and daughters to kill as many Jews as possible. Those who could be creating life are destroying it.

This cruelty has become so confused with the Palestinian national struggle in such a way that cruelty has become a dominant form of expression in the Palestinian community.

But it is our duty to proclaim, over and over no matter how many Cherie Blairs or Ted Turners erroneously fall under the false argument of Palestinian despair, that terror cannot be justified as a form of resistance or defense. Once cruelty is in the womb it gives birth to more cruelty, and a political solution cannot expunge it.

The truth is that the rest of the world is also at risk: The Palestinian strategy/tragedy of cruelty is an evil that undermines civilization and can erode our most basic value, the fundamental sanctity of life itself.

Unfortunately, I am intimate with Palestinian cruelty. When I close my eyes to go to sleep, I see the face of my 13-year-old son, Koby, bludgeoned to death, face-to-face, with rocks. He was killed cruelly in cold blood not because of poverty or desperation, but because of the Palestinian Authority's embrace of cruelty as a political strategy paid for, endorsed, adopted and legitimated by the Palestinians and their supporters.

My son didn't get the chance to study for his master's degree, as did the "desperate" terrorist suicide bomber, Mohammed al-Ghoul, who blew up the bus on Tuesday. How odd that his name means evil demon, a person who revels in what is revolting, who feeds on human beings and preys on corpses.

We Jews have never honored cruelty. And we never will.

The PA is preying on the dead bodies of both Israelis and Palestinians by honoring martyrdom, honoring killing as the highest value in its culture. Despite Yasser Arafat's lip service against terrorism, Arafat says that he himself would like to be a martyr for Jerusalem.

We Jews have never honored cruelty. And we never will. Our heroes are those who can control their evil impulses, those who give, not those who destroy.

True compassion means tempering kindness with strength. It means the ability to give what the other needs to receive. It means balancing giving and holding back.

The rabbis warn us against giving wantonly to the undeserving: He who is merciful to the cruel will end up by being cruel to the merciful, they admonish us.

Rachamim's family name, Zidkiyahu, means "God is my justice." Zidkiyahu was a king who tried to escape Jerusalem and the fate of the Jewish people. But he could not escape. He was punished by being blinded.

We cannot be blind. We must join kindness with strength to achieve true compassion. No "security" fence can stop cruelty. Fences are made to be breached.

Justice demands that we fight for the lives of our children, and for our nation. We must insist that we are not cruel, even in war.

But we must fight. We must fight in the name of Koby, in the name of Yosef Ish-Ran, his friend who was murdered along with him, in the name of Rachamim, and of all the others. That is our justice, and our compassion.

The writer is the author of Writers of the Holocaust and co-director of the Koby Mandell Foundation's Healing Retreat, a therapeutic program for bereaved mothers and widows of families struck by terror.

This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

June 22, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Anonymous, June 25, 2002 12:00 AM

kol hakavod

In humility I applaude this aricle. The author is right on target, in saying that 'he who is merciful to the cruel will end up by being cruel to the merciful'.

However, whate I found the most impressive of all, was this lady's ability to take her own extreme pain and experience and use them for the betterment of others who find themself in similar circumcstances.

May Hashem see the pain and distress of klal yisroel and look at these noshim tzidkonius and send Moshiach now immediatley.

(3) Anonymous, June 24, 2002 12:00 AM

Right on!

If mainstream American media are shameless at equating victim and perpetrator, it is refreshing to hear from Jews who have lost who are not willing to descend to the level of those who took from them. American Jews support you!

(2) Anonymous, June 23, 2002 12:00 AM

no compassion!


I think this approach exemplifies what is written later on in the article, "whoever has compassion when he's supposed to be cruel, will be cruel when he is supposed to be compassionate."
Shaul Ha'Melech had compassion on Amalek, which resulted in Haman's later threatening the Jewish people with extinction.
What did Samuel the Prophet do to Agag King of Amalek? He didn't try to understand him! He cut him in two!
If we didn't have misplaced compassion on Arabs, our own Jewish people wouldn't be massacred!

(1) Miles Herman, June 23, 2002 12:00 AM

Admirable Revelation

Sherri Lederman Mandell is a gifted person. Not simply because she is a gifted composer of essays, but also because I (the reader) am able to feel something positive in the aftermath of the violence that took Koby as well as Rachamim Zidkiyahu and all the other victims and their families and friends. An astounding tribute to the victims for those of us reeling from the losses. Thank you. How very unselfish and admirable.

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