Meet Ezra Schwartz.

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Meet Ezra Schwartz.

He’s eighteen and spending his gap year in Israel, just like my own children did. At least he was until yesterday. Now he’s dead.

Ezra was murdered by fanatics, on the spree of unrelenting bloodlust that’s happening right now in the Jewish State. I am troubled beyond the ability of words to express. Why aren’t the people who changed their Facebook photos to the French flag, changing it today to the Israeli flag? Changing it to Ezra’s picture? But who am I kidding? Israel isn’t France is it? No, it’s just a bunch of Jews over there and maybe, just maybe… they deserve it, right?

Every day for the past several weeks people like Ezra, who by the way, reminds me so much of my youngest son, have been murdered in Israel on an orgy of morbid extremism and spilled Jewish blood. Every time I look at this kid’s picture I want to scream. I’ve caught myself on the verge of tears several times, but it’s not hard to cry for someone you don’t know, especially when they look like family. Along with the unspeakable sadness there’s a tremor of rage building inside me, a rage that’s building for the simple fact that no one seems to care. I want to state for the record that I do.

If you can’t connect the dots between what happened to Ezra and the tens of people who have been slaughtered and maimed recently in Israel and what just happened in Paris and Beirut and Syria and most recently in Mali, then my friends, you are standing in the way of there ever being a solution to this problem.

Do you want to know what you’d have been like in the 30’s? How you would have reacted to the Nazis when they were slaughtering Jews by the millions? It’s easy. All you need to do is to see how you’re reacting today to the murder of an American teen named Ezra Schwartz, killed along with so many others simply because they were born Jewish. Are you apathetic? Are you too busy with your own life to feel for him, or are you speaking about him, decrying the fact that no one, not our government and not our news media seems to care?

Whatever you’re doing right now is exactly what you’d have been doing in 1930 as the Nazis were coming to power. There’s no escaping the fact that we are all part of history now, all part of a wave, a process, and whether we know it or not, our actions (or inactions) are decisive as to where history takes us. I ask myself: ‘who I am I and what do I stand for?’ Today, I am standing with Israel – plain and simple.

This Thursday, on Thanksgiving, I will be grateful. I will hug my children when they arrive home. I will hold them close and I will bless them. But even as I do, I will not forget Ezra Schwartz. Even though I never met him he is part of my family now. And his parents, two people now incalcualably wounded for the rest of their lives, are my brother and my sister.

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38 thoughts on “Meet Ezra Schwartz.

  1. It is a well rehearsed myopic narrative . . . that Israel, and by extension, Jews don’t matter. I’m not even sure how we knock this train off such a destructive track — because it is a willful ignorance that propels it.

    1. Greg,

      Thank you for weighing in. You write well and I appreciate your comment. For me, on a very personal level, this in neither rehearsed or myopic. The feelings this issue engenders are based on several things including intensive research, life experience and the vast and well recorded historical narrative of my people. I could be wrong but it seems to me that one must either be grossly mistaken, or in some ways disingenuous for an intelligent person to suggest that it is ignorant to assume that Jews have not mattered. Perhaps you’re right though. It’s conceivable that Jews have mattered too much throughout history and have suffered mercilessly for that attention. Either way, I don’t deign to change anyone’s mind here. It’s not possible. The medium is too cold. My intention was simply to create energy around an issue that is important for me. I’m not being glib or cynical when I say that I appreciate your adding to that energy. Go in in peace Greg.

      1. I would only make the distinction that a “willful” ignorance is a “choosing” not to know – and that is something intelligent people are proficient at . . .

      2. Peter,

        On reflection it occurs to me that, my first comment may have been taken 180 degrees out of phase – when I was referring to “a well-rehearsed myopic narrative” I was referring to the passively aggressive anti-Semitic culture that constantly impugns Israel at every turn. I fear you may have taken my remarks as applying to your blog . . . nothing could be further from the truth.

        I grew up in a Jewish enclave in North Miami Beach, a well-known migration point for transplanted New York Jews. Because of this formative experience, and good friends like Mark Cooper and Chuckie Feldman, I developed a love for the Jewish ethos and pathos . . . as well as an appreciation for a good bagel with a schmear.

        So I wanted to clarify that comment was intended in solidarity – foolishly I assumed I had left enough breadcrumbs so you would receive it that way . . . and the confusion I may have created has been bothering me all day – so may you go in peace as well.

    2. Greg, hey… I knew where you were coming from. I ate up the bread crumbs and still found my way! If you’re not an official Jew I want you to know we could use you and your mighty brain on our team. Keep in touch. You’re a good’n as John Lee Hooker was fond of saying.

    3. I do not understand the hate and the need to kill and destroy. I know this is part of mankind’s history, but logically it makes no sense that we work so hard to survive and yet we kill others if not ourselves.

      We are not changing our Facebook Statuses because it was one not many and although that is not a good excuse that is the reality of it. However, Ezra and other’s should not die in vain and he should not have been part of this horrific end….prayers to his family…and may he RIP

      1. It was not “one”. Three people were murdered in that particular attack, and another two in another attack on the same day. Add in the Jews that get murdered by Arab terrorists almost continually in Israel (there isn’t a day that goes by without multiple terrorist attacks), and you quickly arrive at numbers far higher that those killed in the recent Paris attacks.

  2. Thank you for sharing this, Peter. I also grieve for the loss of Ezra and the lives of others like him, and I also stand with Israel.

    Thank you for the wonderful show last night in Minneapolis. I’ve been a fan for many years and finally got the chance to see you in person!

  3. Thank you for this heartfelt essay. The Ashreinu family is grieving with the Schwartz family. Our children are struggling with grief. The young men who worked and played with Ezra this year at Ashreinu have created a way to keep their friend’s memory alive. Please help. https://www.gofundme.com/ezrafund

  4. Ah no, Peter, another tragedy of such massive proportions in such a beautiful world…you named the biggest issue we have to deal with on this planet as human beings… the systems and the stories we tell from the point of view of the paradigm of that system. That some are more important than others because of…. you name the category. We are in this together on this ball of spit and sand. We have got to figure that out. We are here together and every single one of us matters as much as every single one of us.
    love you, linda

  5. Everybody’s sympathies have their own special attachment. I have tremendous empathy for the Jews, the Palestinians, the Syrians and also we Americans, who are made to suffer and love in fear at the hands of our own government. All world suffering hurts me. I could weep at the state of inhumanity but it is useless to cry in despair. Practice compassion and have others emulate you. For all our sakes.

    1. Phyllis, your last sentence is so well refined. People who want answers (and who doesn’t) would do well to read it everyday. For those of us who are not politicians or warriors it is the most we can do. And come to think of it… the politicians and the warriors need to read it more than most! Many thanks for sharing your wisdom here.

  6. Peter, as a parent of 3 who did Gap Years in Jerusalem, I appreciate your words and your platform for sharing them. On your prompting, as the last electronic act before I light Shabbat candles, I will change my Facebook picture. I am one of those Jews, J’Accuse, that added the French red, white and blue to my picture of my granddaughter Shira (who is in Jerusalem, by the way, with her parents, my oldest daughter and son in law) and me. I did so because I want to SHOUT TO THE WORLD THAT THIS IS THE SAME EVIL. However, in solidarity with My People, and as a parent whose heart aches for the Schwartz’s, Israel’s blue and white shall identify me for the next few days.

  7. So beautifully written and so heartbreakingly true. My Father in Law, a Shoah survivor, always told me that I would see another Holocaust in my lifetime. I never believed him until recently. It is becoming pretty clear that Jewish lives are pretty cheap in the worlds eyes. I never thought i would see it.

  8. So sad and so true. Jewish lives are cheap in the worlds eyes. My Father in Law, a Shoah survivor, always told me that I would see another Holocaust in my lifetime. Sadly, I am starting to think he was right. I stand with Israel and I grieve with all the innocent’s lives taken in the name of jihad. May Ezra’s memory be a blessing.

  9. Peter- I’ve been a fan for a long time, and even interviewed you via telephone for an article I wrote for the Baltimore Jewish Times in 1990. You have hit the nail on the head. I’ve been struggling to put into words how sad and angry I’ve been feeling these past few days. Thank you so much for your words that I will share with my Facebook friends. Keep it up, and the music too. Hope to see you if your travels take you to NYC.

  10. Peter,

    I went to high school with you. I grew up knowing and appreciating all of my jewish friends, who were many. I stand tall and proud w Israel . What is happening is a sickening. You are correct in noting that the daily slaughter of jews is not making headlines, however, many of us are watching the horrific scenes from home , and are crting out for Israel . I may not be a jew, but i am a human being. We all are. Caring for each other and stopping this maddness must happen. Civilization as we know it is deteriorating at an alarming rate. I stand with Isreal.

  11. I was planning on spending thanksgiving with the Schwartz’s as we have done most years. Not this year . Instead our family us getting together the Sunday before in Sharon . We will say goodbye to a grandchild, a child, a cousin, a nephew, a friend etc… Saying goodbye to a Mench! Saying goodbye to a part of us!

  12. My daughter spent a summer with Ezra on USY on Wheels. Tomorrow she will drive with her fellow USYers to Sharon to bury their friend. I had the opportunity to meet many of these children and their parents, and find myself sitting in the dark tearful. As a physician, I see death almost every day but I spend my days fighting to save lives. I value each and every day a person is alive, regardless of their religious beliefs. Why is it that we are at a point in time where so many people don’t value the lives of Jews, even of Jewish children. Tomorrow my daughter will see her friend buried, and which football teams win will be a much more “relevant” news story!

    1. Marc,

      I’m just texting with my daughter now. She’s very broken up. Football teams indeed. Maybe we as species we turn away to protect ourselves from unbearable pain. I just received this letter (below) from someone, and then, my answer back. His platitudes and dismissive attitude didn’t make me the least bit happy, I can assure you – but how to inform people? How to tell one’s story while the world is turning away. God knows I don’t have any answers. I feel for you achi. Shavuah tov.

      Peter, I don’t know you. Nor did I know Ezra. Yet I can feel your sadness through your words. But regrettably, it appears you’re using the death of an innocent to propagate division in our world, not unity. You, apparently, are eager to jump on this opportunity in the name of religious righteousness and sanctimony. It’s hard to blame you. It’s an easy path, but hardly does it serve Ezra’s memory. Did you know this young man’s mind, his hopes, his dreams, his beliefs? No, I think you only know he was Jewish. But hatred, persecution, bigotry and malice in this world aren’t the exclusive burden of the Jews. If you know anything of history, or current events, this should be obvious. Until humans on this planet come to the realization that borders, politics and religions largely only serve to divide humanity, we will continue to mourn our dead, and point fingers at the rest of the living. I leave these words of RFK, and hope that you find a way on your own heart to accept that at the end of the day, you are much more than Jewish, you are human. And we are all in this together.

      Dear Warheads Guy, thank you for your post. Not only do I appreciate the fact that you’ve taken the time to read my piece, you’ve also weighed in here with a thoughtful point of view. A few words in response… I believe you’ve described a beautiful dream, a utopian vision that we are unfortunately not, as a society, able to realize at this point. Your post reminds me a bit of John Lennon’s Imagine, a song with a beautiful melody and for me at least, lyrics that didn’t quite resonate. You speak of borders and politics and religion as if they were by nature, purely negatives. In fact, they are neither. They are neutral instruments whose positive effect on the world is wholly dependent on the way they are meted out. Sometimes for tremendous good and other times, as we well know, for the exact opposite. It’s long been my opinion that we learn how to love the “other” by the way we love those closest to us. For example: I love my brother more then my best friend. I love my best friend more than I love a stranger. But in no way does my superior love for the former two mitigate my ability, my potential to love the latter. In fact, I learn how to love the stranger through understanding my love and developing my love for those closest to me. You are correct. I didn’t know Ezra, but I feel connected to him by many means; a shared faith, a common culture, and not the least is the fact that he looks like my son – as I mentioned in my piece. I wrote – as you mentioned, out of pain. A pain borne out of empathy and a shared connection. That’s how we humans work. John Lennon’s song, like your response to me here was aspirational. I appreciate that, but for the time being, understand that stifling a person’s cry of anguish and pointing out that his culture and that which he holds dear is somehow insignificant when compared to some far-away ideal. I wonder if this is perhaps, the most appropriate approach. Again, my thanks for your time in writing to me. Blessings for peace to us both and to the world at large.

  13. Thank you, Peter, for your well-thought-out blog post. Your final paragraph is the punctuation point — we are all grieving. I have a daughter in seminary in Israel in her gap year; my older son did his gap year two years ago in a yeshiva in Israel. Ezra’s parents, just like my husband and I have done, send their children to Israel to learn and grow and love the land and its people. The horror and tragedy of Ezra — and others — being an innocent victim in an often-diabolical landscape is what hurts so badly.
    He was killed upon returning from what his name represents: Ezra — help. Volunteering of his time and his kindness and his spirit to give back to and help those soldiers who are Israel’s protectors.
    May Ezra’s memory be for a blessing, and may his family and friends be comforted among the many mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim.

    1. Pearl,

      Thank you so much for this beautiful response. It’s a strange bit of human nature that when we grieve a close and personal loss, there is always someone there to “remind” us that we are somehow being myopic in our grief, that we need to universalize our sadness. While we do condemn and in some removed way, mourn the loss of people with whom we have no connection, it isn’t wise or proper to insist that we mourn in some egalitarian fashion. We hurt because we know Ezra, we know him like our own children, we know his parents as our own kin. This is the same for all people as I write here:
      http://omnifeed.com/article/www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-himmelman/i-too-sing-for-america-my_b_8170800.html

      As with Yakov meeting Esau on the road we have three tools – in this order: prayer, gifts of appeasement, and preparation for all out war if necessary. We are fortunate that this is not 1492 or 1930 or…? The third option, though we need always to exercise it with extreme caution, is open to us after 2700 years of exile. Forgive me if I’m sharing too much, but here’s a letter I just got from a well meaning reader – and my response back to him:

      Peter, I don’t know you. Nor did I know Ezra. Yet I can feel your sadness through your words. But regrettably, it appears you’re using the death of an innocent to propagate division in our world, not unity. You, apparently, are eager to jump on this opportunity in the name of religious righteousness and sanctimony. It’s hard to blame you. It’s an easy path, but hardly does it serve Ezra’s memory. Did you know this young man’s mind, his hopes, his dreams, his beliefs? No, I think you only know he was Jewish. But hatred, persecution, bigotry and malice in this world aren’t the exclusive burden of the Jews. If you know anything of history, or current events, this should be obvious. Until humans on this planet come to the realization that borders, politics and religions largely only serve to divide humanity, we will continue to mourn our dead, and point fingers at the rest of the living. I leave these words of RFK, and hope that you find a way on your own heart to accept that at the end of the day, you are much more than Jewish, you are human. And we are all in this together.

      Dear Warheads Guy, thank you for your post. Not only do I appreciate the fact that you’ve taken the time to read my piece, you’ve also weighed in here with a thoughtful point of view. A few words in response… I believe you’ve described a beautiful dream, a utopian vision that we are unfortunately not, as a society, able to realize at this point. Your post reminds me a bit of John Lennon’s Imagine, a song with a beautiful melody and for me at least, lyrics that didn’t quite resonate. You speak of borders and politics and religion as if they were by nature, purely negatives. In fact, they are neither. They are neutral instruments whose positive effect on the world is wholly dependent on the way they are meted out. Sometimes for tremendous good and other times, as we well know, for the exact opposite. It’s long been my opinion that we learn how to love the “other” by the way we love those closest to us. For example: I love my brother more than my best friend. I love my best friend more than I love a stranger. But in no way does my superior love for the former two mitigate my ability, my potential, to love the latter. In fact, I learn how to love the stranger through understanding my love and developing my love for those closest to me. You are correct. I didn’t know Ezra, but I feel connected to him by many means; a shared faith, a common culture, and not the least is the fact that he looks like my son – as I mentioned in my piece. I wrote – as you mentioned, out of pain. A pain borne out of empathy and a shared connection. That’s how we humans work. John Lennon’s song, like your response to me here was aspirational. I appreciate that, but for the time being, understand that stifling a person’s cry of anguish and pointing out that his culture and that which he holds dear is somehow insignificant when compared to some far-away ideal, seems wrong. I wonder if yours is perhaps, not the most appropriate approach. Again, my thanks for your time in writing to me. Blessings for peace to us both and to the world at large.

      Again, thank you for taking the time to read and respond in such a meaningful way.
      Zi gezunt,

      P

  14. Peter, your explanation of the cascading effect of loving well, those closest to us, illustrates how the true nature of love is to expand – not contract. Therefore allowing love to direct our path, even when that path leads us through pain, doesn’t imply that any articulation of that love/pain is retributive – to assume such retribution is specious.

    No doubt we all resonate with a utopic ideal of the world – a world made right. It is inextricably embedded in what it means to be made in God’s image. But true reconciliation isn’t achieved by foisting upon everyone else their need to change to “our” ideal, rather it requires each of us to take the humble journey back to who’s image it is we bear – the fountainhead of immeasurable love. It is invariably a journey that leads us to uncomfortable realizations about ourselves . . . but only in the crucible of such honesty can we ever hope to realize a world made right.

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