Instead of trying to convince ourselves that it’s not really raining and that there are only a few clouds in the sky, we should be asking a few basic questions on the relationship between Israel and young American Jews.
In October 1994, several days after kidnapped IDF soldier Nachshon Wachsman was killed in a failed attempt to save him from his terrorist captors, I was scheduled to teach my weekly graduate seminar at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. But given the horror of what had just transpired, I couldn’t even imagine simply teaching as planned. I no longer recall what had been scheduled for that day. But what I do remember is that I decided to scrap the usual fare and that I taught a text in memory of Wachsman.
As the seminar drew to a close, it was obviously quiet in the room. But just as the students were preparing to disperse, one looked at me and asked, “What does any of this have to do with us?”
More than 15 years later, I can still picture that moment, frozen in time. I remember exactly where she was sitting. I recall the looks of discomfort on the faces of some of the other students, but the nods of agreement with her question from others. And I remember that I had no idea what to say.
And I remember feeling unbearably lonely and wholly out of place. Lonely because it was clear that she was not the only one wondering why in the world we were thinking about Nachshon Wachsman, when my own heart was breaking, and out of place because I had no idea how to engage those students in a conversation about why he mattered to me. I didn’t know where to begin.
What I didn’t know then, of course, was that a question that seemed to me an aberration would soon become the norm.