Shortly after 10 a.m. on October 13, two Palestinians, one armed with a gun, the other with a knife, attacked a busload of passengers in the town of East Talpiot, Israel, a 12 minute drive from Jerusalem. Among the injured was Richard Lakin, a 76 year old educator who was raised in Newton, MA. Lakin died on October 27.
Lakin’s death put the recent violence in vividly human terms – his son, Micah Lakin Avni, eulogized his father: “Dad was a kind, gentle, loving person, whose legacy is ‘acts of kindness’. Dad was taken from us by hatred and evil. But he would not want us to respond with hatred and evil. He would forgive, and guide us to respond with love and kindness.”
Avni said his father was shot in the head, then stabbed multiple times, and that a video reenactment of the murder was posted, “showing how to butcher people and encouraging others to do so.”
On October 22, Barry Shrage, President of Combined Jewish Philanthropies and Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council’s, led a trip to Israel to provide solace and support to the victims of violence and their families, and to gain a better understanding of the tragic events of the past few months.
Last week, we spoke with both Shrage and Burton about what their experience, as well as Jonathan Greenblatt, new head of the ADL, about the role his organization plays.
Jewish Journal: What was the goal in visiting Israel last month?
Jeremy Burton: The purpose was to be together with our friends and partners in Israel during this time of crisis. To visit those who have been harmed in the attacks and to tell people that they’re not alone in dealing with these problems, and to hear from people on the ground about how they’re dealing with it and how they’re thinking about it.
There’s a deep level of anxiety, particularly around Jerusalem, about the current specific moment that we’re in. There’s also an incredible amount of activity on the ground. People are refusing to be deterred from hopefulness, people are extremely determined to keep moving forward with their lives.
JJ: You visited with Richard Lakin’s ex-wife a few days before he succumbed to his wounds, as well as others. What impacted you most about this experience?
Burton: When we met with Karen Lakin, one of the things she said, we want to tell our story in our own words, we want the world to know who Richard Lakin is – who he is, what he stands for, what he believes in.
The other family we visited with were the parents of a boy who was at that time still in the hospital, a 13 year old boy, and they just kept coming back to how important it was to them to know that the Jewish community cared about them.
The boys doctors were Palestinian and Jewish doctors working side by side at Hadassah Hospital, and they treated him as well as the terrorist who stabbed him side by side in the same ER. And these doctors talk about medicine being a bridge for coexistence for people to see a better future.
In the midst of this terror, which is literally killing Jews in the streets just for being Jews, there’s an incredible resiliency. That’s the word I’m really holding on to: resiliency.
JJ: Why is this happening now?
Burton: There’s an incredible campaign of incitement by leaders in the Palestinian sector. The fact of the matter is, and there’s no denying it, that President Abbas has talked in the last month about celebrating the blood in the streets of Jerusalem. While we were there, I think it was Monday, the Mufti said something about that the mosque had been here for 3,000 years. Just complete and utter denial of any Jewish relationship to the space, to this land… just outright incitement, no question.
Most of the terrorists in this round are very different from those for example from the second intifada. They are mostly residents of municipal Jerusalem, they are inside of the security barrier, these are not people who don’t have residency rights in Jerusalem, they are people who live and work everyday in Jerusalem By and large they are not a coordinated terrorist operation. This is not as it has been in the past, a place where Islamists or Palestinian terrorist organizations are training people, providing them with weapons.
JJ: Do these changes make it harder to stop?
Burton: These are 13, 15, 19 year olds who are getting up one morning, taking the knife out of their own kitchen, and it makes it a much harder dilemma for Israeli authorities to deal with because there’s no network to keep an eye on – there’s just some kid deciding today’s the day they’re going to become a terrorist.
It’s a very different dilemma from past periods of outright terrorist violence.
JJ: What can be done to stem the violence?
Burton: There’s a fair amount of discussion, both amongst Israelis and Palestinians and certainly amongst Israelis, that we spoke to about the need for leadership to create possibilities for hope and critique of both Israeli and Palestinian leadership’s failure to have the courage to lead toward something better. That was certainly a theme that came up in many conversations.
When we talk about the fact that these are mostly kids living in Jerusalem inside the barriers, there’s also a critique of the lack of sufficient schools and municipal services in their neighborhoods. The Israeli leadership isn’t getting them – as the mayor of Haifa says, you have to give them something to lose because if they don’t have something to lose then we’re going to have this. When they don’t have enough classrooms, when they don’t even have sanitation pickup in their neighborhoods, they have nothing to lose. You leave these kids with… this.
JJ: What can Americans do?
Burton: When federations plan these solidarity missions to Israel, people have the opportunity to go over there and offer support. Part of my message is that people should go and experience the solidarity. It’s incredibly powerful for us to be able to connect with them and to hear their stories directly and to be their brothers and sisters in helping tell those stories to the world.