Thursday, March 31, 2011

An Open Letter to Tamar Fogel

Dear Tamar,

We have never met, nor are we likely to. I am not a Jew nor an Israeli, though for many years I have defended both Jews and Israelis from the physical and political attacks that are made on them. I live in England, though I'm Irish. The Irish used to be great enemies of the English, who did bad things to us, but who gave us their language, something in which we excel. But many years ago, long before you were born, the enmity between the Irish and the English faded. We are not the same people, but we no longer hate each other, and the English Queen will soon make her first visit to Ireland, in a gesture that the past is past, that we are now allies, not enemies.

The most important for you is to be sure that the only guilty parties were the terrorists who carried out the slaughter. And I need not tell you that these were not the first Palestinian terrorists to take out their hate, their resentment, and their jealousy on helpless Jews living on Jewish land.

I have watched you in two videos, the first time when Binyamin Netanyahu came to visit you and your grandparents, and I still remember the force with which you challenged him, such an important man and such a young girl. And after that your tears. It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now that the dead are at peace, and your two living brothers may grow up with less dark memories, but that you above all are old enough and aware enough to carry the most terrible memories through the rest of your life. But I also saw a second video in which you spoke to a reporter from Israeli National Television, and here your tears gave way to a most articulate, awesomely mature, and moving assertion of your right to live in Samaria. I wish every Palestinian could watch that video with an Arabic voice-over. Perhaps there and then they might see that their fight against Israel is worthless, that you will never surrender, that you will not let yourselves be led to the slaughter as happened all those years ago. Rabbi Chaim Potok once wrote that there are no more gentle Jews. He did not mean that Jews are no longer kind or good, but that they now know how to fight back. Kol Hakavod for every word you spoke.

You will grow up among strong people, and you will finally marry and have children of your own. That may seem far off to you, but to someone much older like myself, it will happen in no time at all. When that happens, and when your two brothers find wives and have children, there will soon be more Fogels than before. They cannot substitute for the dead, but they can stand up and speak for them down the long years to come. Your life, however much you may wish it otherwise, will be overshadowed by the terrible event that has fallen on you. You will ask questions and you may find answers. After the Shoah, many rabbis tackled the question of hester panim, asking why HaShem had seemed to turn his face away from his people. I am not a Jew, and I cannot provide easy answers to those questions. You must seek your own answers from your rabbis and in your scriptures. One answer may be found in a short sound recording that was made in Belsen shortly after its liberation by British forces. It was made by the BBC and contains at the end description of a Shabbat service held by a British rabbi, at the end of which the survivors stand and sing HaTikva. They are weak, they are out of tune, some of them will still die: but they are singing in open defiance of the very great Nazi evil that had overwhelmed them and their families. Three years after that, the state of Israel was established.

I'm writing, first because I'm a writer and that's how I express my feelings best. But also because I want to convey just how many people's thoughts are with you. You have your grandparents and aunts or uncles, and after that you have your small and concerned community of I'timar, but beyond that you have a world of people, Jews and non-Jews, who stand with you in your grief. We feel helpless, not knowing what we can or should do to help, yet longing to do so. How many people can say they truly love the murderers who came to your house that night? Some may hand out candies and dance in the streets, but how meaningful is that? They love themselves and their own dreams of glory, but who can truly love men of blood, people who kill infants in their cradles?

For you the greatest problem of the next few years may be this: you are still a child and you deserve to be reading funny books and watching films and playing games and going to your youth club; but many will treat you as an adult before you are entirely ready for adult responsibilities. You do seem older than your years, but you should not be rushed into adulthood. I am sure your grandparents and others will understand this and will do their best to protect you from those who want to take your childhood away from you.

Enough of the advice! Everyone likes to give advice. You don't have to listen to any of it, and advice isn't really the reason I've written. You are in my thoughts and in the thoughts of millions of other people because the murder of your family has gone so deeply into so many people's hearts. The list of atrocities carried out on Jews, not just in Israel but beyond, is very long. As a result, it's easy to let them all blur together into one mass. But every so often one death or a group of deaths stands out and demands special attention. One day there will be a memorial to the sacrifice your family made. People from far away may come to visit it. Photographs of it will appear in the press. But the true memorial will be you, an ordinary girl, with a torn heart and a wounded soul, going to school, going to shul, making friends, baking bread, sewing, cooking, reading, blushing when a certain young man comes to speak to you, going to Kever Yosef to marry him, giving birth to your first child. I just mean to say that no-one expects from you heroic deeds, no-one wants you to have to shoulder resistance to all the evils you know better than most. It is your ordinary deeds, the day-to-day living of an ordinary life that are for the creators of horror the most painful thing of all, that Jews will continue to live on land sanctified by Jewish blood. At the end of that recording made in Belsen, someone calls out 'Am Yisrael Chai'. By living, the killers only bring eternal disgrace on themselves, their families, and everyone who shelters them. By living, you make clear to everyone that the People of Israel live, that their light will not be snuffed out, and that when your enemies have gone to dust and seen a darkness beyond measure engulf them, the light of the Jews will illuminate the nations. Grow and be happy and tell us what you see on your journey.


Karmafish said...

Thank you for this, good sir.

I have linked to this beautiful piece of yours from my own blog.

You have my sincerest thanks.

ruth44 said...

Dear Professor MacEoin,

We have read your open letter to Tamar Fogel with emotion and deep gratitude. Your understanding and empathy to Tamar and her family stands in deep contrast to the brutal and cruel words repeated in most of the western media who stressed the fact that “only” a settler family had been murdered – and, of course, this was “quite acceptable” or, at least, could be “understood” since everyone knows that it is the settlers who are the only obstacle to peace. In addition many important media stations, like Sky News, didn’t even bother to mention this atrocity at all.

We don’t know if there is a way to bring your brave words to a wider media audience in the UK and the USA and wondered if you would be prepared to send them to the media yourself. We feel that this action could show the truth to the many blinkered people who cannot see the truth before their eyes. Your name and status might make them take notice . We will try to distribute your open letter to Tamar to as wide an audience as possible. On a personal level we would like you to know that your support is of great importance to us. We are just ordinary Israelis, grandparents who are desperately worried about the future of our children and grandchildren in this tiny land at a time when it seems that even the so-called “civilized” nations have turned their backs on us. We thank you for your words and appreciate your willingness to stand up and be counted with us despite the obvious difficulties of being identified as a friend of Israel in today’s world.

With thanks,

Evelyn & Howard Ross, Herzliya, Israel

Ruth & Eric Sobol, Ramat Efal, Israel

H.F. said...

With tears in my eyes, I thank you for putting those amazing words to paper. Your letter to Tamar Fogel, who lost her parents and several siblings, should be an awakening to the world.

If THEY hate us, and WE hate them, why can't we all just live according to our own beliefs in a peaceful world?

Only time will tell...

Anonymous said...

I was moved to tears.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I was moved to tears too; I was extremely touched by the Jewish words you used (and I don't mean Hebrew words). You have a unique soul.

Rabbi Daniel said...

Quite remarkable. May God bless you.
Daniel Lapin
American Alliance of Jews and Christians

Anonymous said...

You wrote "How many people can say they truly love the murderers who came to your house that night? ..."
Wouldn't "How many people said that they did not truly love the murderers who came to your house that night?" be more realistic?

L.L. said...

Just as your letter was a blessing, you will be blessed.

Shirley Hiller said...

Dear Dr Denis MaeEoin.
I have never in my life read such an amazingly beautiful letter, and i am a grandmother of teenagers. I am Jewish and have watched and read everything on the Holocaust, been to Yad Vashem so many times, but this horrific crime has haunted me more than anything. I read your letter to Tamar with tears falling from my eyes. never have i seen anything written like your letter to this child. To think out of such terrible sadness came this beautiful piece, something that i thought could never be put into words and called that. My deepest thanks to you for doing something so very difficult. I pray that all turns out for Tamar and her brothers as you have said and i pray that G-d will keep you well and safe.
Shirley Hiller. UK.