On Children with Bloodied Faces

Quotation from Rabbi Hillel

I could look at his bloodied face for only a second or two. These images stick with me, and Omran’s now lives with the images of a naked Vietnamese girl running toward me and the foot of a German soldier coming down on the head of a baby, still alive, lying on top of piles and piles of dead Jews in a ditch. (Why did they film such a thing?) It is too much to carry, and I have no choice but to carry it.

The words we use to talk about these events are poor, removed from what injured children will feel when they come out of shock. We say it’s tragic, a humanitarian disaster. Some of us witness, but are helpless to do anything. Some of us do something but are helpless to stop the bleeding.

I’m ashamed of what some others do. They elevate fear to the level of a god and turn away refugees in lieu of sacrifices.

Well, guess what, you fear mongers. Fear has always been with us. Fear is at the heart of our lives. It is not going away, and you must learn to live with it.

With UN Security Council resolutions, mediated talks among the Syrian factions, and calls for an end to violence, why does the violence go on? There are briefings, press releases, messages, and statements. Why does the violence go on? We have felt and expressed empathy — well, at least some of us have. Isn’t it long past time to act with compassion?

Can we not set aside fear and embrace our common humanity for the sake of civilians and innocents? Can we call on our institutions to do a set of right actions on our behalf, even if doing so puts some or all of us in more or less theoretical danger for awhile?

The people and organizations currently offering humanitarian aid are not sufficient for the task at hand, and that’s not through any lack on their part. It’s an issue of the magnitude of the problem. With Assad more than happy to harm his own citizens, with rebels from who-knows-where acting in ways and places that put civilians in danger, with ISIS taking advantage of the chaos to gain a foothold somewhere, and with Russia bombing in a way that supports Assad’s agenda, Syria is no place for non-combatants, particularly children.

Fear of the stranger and fear mongering in an appeal to people’s basest reactions is no right action to take in the face of this situation.

I subscribe to a few basic thoughts that I’ve worked out over the years, with some help from wise people, both alive and dead, like Pema Chodron, Master D.K. Shin, Marsha Linehan, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Marcus Aurelius, Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Rabbi Hillel.

· At some level, all stories are true. I came to this conclusion when I was trying to reconcile my basic support for Israel’s right to exist in safety with my concern for my fellow human beings who live in Palestine.

· The world is an uncertain place. Pema Chodron points out that our reality is that no one knows what will happen next. I don’t know what will happen next, and I know that you don’t either.

· The uncertainty leads us to fear. And as my Taekwondo master, Master Shin, said, “There is no room for fear here.” Rabbi Nachman of Bretslav said it differently: The whole world is a narrow bridge and the main thing is not to be afraid at all.

· No one gets out of here alive. No need to rush for the exit or try to bar the door.

· Most of the time, there is a dialectic that you can embrace. For example, I’m deeply afraid of what might happen, and I can help people who are suffering. My favorite dialectic is I’m doing the best I can do right now, and I need to do better. We need to do better.

These thoughts have helped me get through severely dark and challenging places in my life.

Maybe they will help you set aside your fear and call for all countries, the United States and Europe in particular, to give Omran and Syria’s other civilian refugees a safe haven.

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