Revenge is not something I spend much time thinking about, but I found myself discussing the concept on the morning of my wedding. A few nights before, a pair of Palestinians broke into the home of the Fogel family in Itamar, a small community in Samaria, murdering two parents and three children in cold blood, including a three-month-old infant.
With my wedding only a few hours away, I asked the rabbi, “This tragedy is all we can think about right now. How do I go into the most joyous day of my life with this weight on my heart and the hearts of every guest that will be there?”
“Ebin, your wedding is our answer to this tragedy,” responded the rabbi. “The family you will, please G-d ,raise in the Land of Israel, and the home full of love and Torah that you and your wife will build here, that is how we respond to hatred, to senseless violence, that is Jewish ‘revenge,’” he assured me.
That discussion helped me face the day and I think of it unfortunately with each subsequent act of terror that has been committed since. We do not become embittered and consumed by rage, the rabbi explained, we mourn and build and move forward. Kindness, love and light are our “revenge.”
I was reminded of that “revenge” discussion a few years later when our niece Rivka embarked on a 10-day visit to the concentration camps in Poland, describing the experience in a subsequent memoir. The night before she left, Rivka stayed at her grandmother’s house. Before leaving for Ben Gurion in the morning, Savta gave her a bag of fresh-baked chocolate chip treats.
“Cookies for Auschwitz,” Savta chuckled dolefully, handing Rivka the bag.
In her memoir, Rivka described touring the site of horrific brutality, where her great-grandmother Nissel and great aunts Erika, Eva, and Rivka had been sent directly to the gas chambers upon arrival, and where her grandfather had narrowly escaped with his life.
Rivka concluded, “As I took out a cookie from my pocket, I almost wished that Hitler wasn’t so deeply buried in hell so that he could see me eating my grandmother’s cookies in Auschwitz. My grandmother’s cookies that she had made in Israel. My grandmother’s cookies, that she had made in Israel, for her Jewish grandchild. My grandmother’s cookies, that she had made in Israel, for the Jewish grandchild that Hitler never thought she would have.”
When I read these words, I pictured this Torah-observant Jewish girl standing on the ground where the Nazis tried with every fiber of their beings to wipe us out, savoring the taste of her people’s triumph over evil. And I thought to myself, “Revenge is sweet.”
But in the present, without the benefit of perspective and the time to heal, how does “revenge” taste?
A month ago, I arrived at synagogue on Friday morning to find boxes of cookies sitting on a table in front of the sanctuary. I picked one up and read the tiny note attached with a piece of ribbon. The cookies were a gift from a neighboring town, Rimonim, a small gesture to say that they were thinking of us as we mourned the loss of a young father from our town named Adiel Kolman.
Adiel was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist as he exited Jerusalem’s Old City, heading home from a job in which he helped excavate artifacts of ancient Jewish history near the City of David. Adiel had four young children and a wife and lived in a community full of family and friends that loved him dearly. He was cut down in the prime of his life for no other reason than he dared to be a Jew living in the Land of Israel.
That Friday morning, I brought home the box of cookies from Rimonim, a tiny flash of tenderness that almost broke my heart. I gave them to my wife and saw her wipe tears from her cheeks as she read the note.
When we ate the cookies on Shabbat, we spoke of Adiel and the kindness shown by our neighboring town, and all of the love and support that had been showered upon Adiel’s widow, children, parents and siblings.
And immediately, I was reminded of the rabbi’s advice about revenge on the day of my wedding. Adiel’s children will be raised in a loving family and community. Revenge. The acts of kindness we do and the Torah we learn. Revenge. The homes filled with hope, warmth and light. Revenge.
But that Shabbos morning as I ate the cookies from Rimonim less than a week after Adiel’s murder, and thought of his children and widow facing their first Shabbat without Abba, revenge tasted anything but sweet.