I drove my daughter and my neighbor’s kids to the JCC this morning. We were singing songs from Moana when my aunt texted me. “They got him; did you see this?” She sent a picture of her TV with a news headline that read “Breaking News- FBI Confirms Arrest for JCC Bomb Threats- 18-year old citizen living in Israel.”
I couldn’t believe it. I walked the kids to their classrooms and got back into my car and started to read the news. Several thoughts ran through my head:
- This was a Jewish person? Part of me was relieved that this wasn’t a group of neo-Nazi skinheads, but I was heartbroken. But how could a Jewish person justify bringing terror to communities across the United States? It makes no sense.
- This was an Israeli-American kid! What happened to him to make him target Jewish institutions? He has dual-citizenship: why is he so angry, and who is he angry at – Israel or America?
- One of the details released about this young man is that he was found unfit to serve in the Israeli army – while we don’t know exactly why, behavior like this indicates mental illness. But no one will care about that; instead of getting help for his mental illness, he may spend the rest of his life in jail. While I cannot empathize with his motivations, the fact that he may go untreated makes me sad for him.
- I cannot believe they actually caught him. The FBI and the Israeli police worked together to find him before he took this to the next level. Thank GOD he didn’t do any physical harm to anyone; I have no doubt that he eventually would have.
- What impact is this going to have on American support of Israel? And on how the world views future threats against Jews or any minority group?
- I was so quick to blame Trump for setting the tone in America that caused this. While I might have been wrong about the origin of these specific threats – as so many of us were, because how could we possibly expect that the threatening calls had been made by an Israeli-American teen? – I still cannot excuse the President’s reaction (or lack of reaction) to these threats. His lack of response was disheartening and showed his true colors.
- How many of these threats were actually him? How many were copycats? Was he responsible for the threats on my community? And now that he’s been arrested, will other threats emerge, only to be taken less seriously??
Here’s the bottom line. The safety of my daughter, her friends, and thousands of children across the country was threatened. Schools, synagogues, community centers, and airlines were disrupted. The financial and emotional impact to our community was huge. Jews in America (and across the world) were scared. However, we all came together during this difficult time. Our non-Jewish friends supported us. We became stronger.
My daughter’s JCC class is made up of students who are Jewish, Christian, Hispanic, Israeli immigrants, adopted, from a same sex couple, from single parents, and with Autism. It’s a beautiful group of bright-eyed, eager to learn, innocent sweethearts. None of them have a clue about what has been going on the past few months. As we learn more about this 18-year-old who caused such terror – and are tempted to jump on the bandwagon to burn him at the stake – we should remember that, not long ago, he was one of these kids, in some Israeli or American school somewhere. Somewhere along the line something went horribly wrong; perhaps he didn’t get the help or emotional support he needed, or maybe he was bullied. It’s possible his parents, teachers and friends didn’t know how to help him.
So here’s what we can and should do: we should take our anger and frustration and do something productive with it. Reach out to someone who suffers with depression. Make a donation to an organization that helps people with mental illness.
As the details unfold in the coming weeks, let us remember that true strength is shown when you can overcome the instinct for revenge, and forgive.