My week starts when Shabbat ends. Last week, it began with the El Paso, Texas, shooting that left 22 people dead. This week began with the news that the Palestinian killers of yeshiva student Dvir Sorek had been apprehended.
The El Paso shootings left me feeling like someone had punched me in the stomach and with a pain in my chest. Who walks into a Walmart filled with families shopping for school supplies and gardening materials and opens fire?
The shooter supplied the answer. Just minutes before the attack he posted a four-page racist anti-immigrant manifesto on the 8chan conspiracy message board that has become an online home for extremists. “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” the manifesto read. In the end, eight of his victims were Mexican. They were killed simply because they were Hispanic.
Just as the churning in my stomach had finally begun to subside after days of immersion in the El Paso and Dayton attacks and their aftermath came the news that a young yeshiva student had been found violently stabbed to death on the road leading to the West Bank community where his yeshiva is located.
Dvir Sorek was 18 years old and attended the Machanaim Yeshiva in the Etzion bloc community of Migdal Oz. He was enrolled in the Hesder program, which combines religious studies with military service. He was just completing his first year of studies and was returning from a shopping trip to Jerusalem to buy books for his rabbis as a year-end gift when he was brutally murdered shortly after getting off the bus from the city.
He had not yet entered the army. He had not gone through basic training. He was not wearing a uniform. He wore a large knitted kippah. His face was framed by long curled payot, or side locks. He looked young and vulnerable.
He was killed because he was a Jew.
I understand that issues between Jews and Palestinians here are different and more complicated than the hatred of a white nationalist for Hispanics in the United States. But Sorek was carrying a bag full of books, not a gun. He wasn’t bothering anyone. The Palestinians who stopped their car and killed him saw a Jew.
And some 12 hours after his body was found at the side of the road with his arms still cradling the books that he had purchased, his name and photo were shown on every Israeli news channel and news website. And I know that many of the people looked at his photo, shrugged their shoulders and thought, “Oh, a settler,” as if they knew everything about him, what he thought and what he felt.
But it is clear they didn’t.
The bag contained books written by the David Grossman, a secular, left wing, peace activist. The exact opposite of what you would imagine Sorek buying or reading.
Grossman was so touched to hear that the murdered teen was carrying his books that he took some time to learn about him, including speaking to his family, and then eulogized Sorek at a public event in Jerusalem as the funeral was just concluding in the teen’s hometown of Ofra.
Grossman called him a “kind, sensitive, youth who loved others and loved peace, with the soul of an artist.” He also shared advice with the family about losing a son to the Israeli-Palestinian hatred, calling it the start of a “very long and difficult road.” It is a road he knows well – Grossman’s son was killed in action during the second Lebanon War, even as the author carried on his calls for peacemaking.
Sorek, in fact, did love peace. According to people who knew him, he was involved in a grassroots organization that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who live in the West Bank to meet each other and learn about each other’s lives. He looked upon everyone positively and wanted the people of the world to love one another regardless of color or religion. He loved secular literature. He was a talented musician. He loved gardening. He was considered a gift by his parents and by all who knew him.
These are things that a stranger would not know about the teen just by looking at his photo or by hearing the name of his hometown or the fact that he attended a hesder yeshiva.
I think Yair Sharki, the religion correspondent for Israel’s Channel 12 said it just right, in a post while live-tweeting from the funeral: “I am thinking about how frustrating it is that only in such horrible circumstances the public is exposed to the good and true people of this reality, and not to marginalized stereotypical images. When talking about settlers or yeshiva students, the context is usually extremism and fanaticism. But now look: a yeshiva student, a soldier, with beautiful sidelocks and broad horizons. On his way to his hall of study with Grossman’s book as a gift for his rabbis. Most of life, most real people, are like this, far from the disturbed world that is sometimes reflected in the news.”