Section: Opinion

Vigil raises questions of if and how to mourn one’s enemies

By Adam Rubenstein

What is the standard for mourning? At the vigil last week that intended, as advertised through an all-student email, to honor and remember the lives lost during recent violence in Israel and Gaza, the names of the innocents were included without distinction alongside the names of known terrorists. The Talmud explains that when the Egyptians were swallowed by the Red Sea — which had parted for the Israelites — the angels wanted to sing out in joy. God, however, intervenes silencing the angels by saying, “My handiwork [the Egyptians] is drowning and you want to sing?” The Book of Proverbs 24:17 teaches us, “At your enemy’s fall, do not rejoice.” The difficult moral question is, should one celebrate, or even just observe sorrowfully, the death of an enemy?

Should a group like Kenyon Hillel or the Kenyon Israel Public Affairs Committee allow itself, by self-exclusion from the vigil, to be seen as violating the lesson of Proverbs, of the Talmud and of the Song of the Sea in the Book of Exodus? Or should groups recognize the hateful death-cult that is Hamas, attend a form of ritual observance, and quietly, peacefully, remember the ultimate lesson: We are all God’s creations, and the waste of human life should be remembered, honored and learned from whenever there is an opportunity?

In this recent round of fighting and death, which the vigil mourned, a Gazan businessman explained the death toll rather simply in a Gatestone Institute interview: “Why did Hamas have to wait until 2,200 [Gazans] were killed, and then accept the same [ceasefire Egyptians and Israelis offered weeks earlier]? Hamas has blackmailed the world with the killed Gazan civilians.” Should we mourn those who are victims of Hamas’s tyrannical rule, Palestinian and Israeli alike, alongside Hamas terrorists? Does that do anyone justice? What is the moral act when a vigil is held? How must we act?

A rabbi once told me a story of two men in Auschwitz, taking their few brief minutes of exercise. From a distant tower, a cruel guard fires rounds toward their feet, just to terrorize them. One man sinks to his knees, and begins to recite Psalms of praise to God. His friend, in utter disbelief, remonstrates to him: “Why are you thanking God, in this place, at this time, with what we are being put through?” His friend, pointing to the guard, says, “I’m thanking God I am not like him.”

I attended the vigil, and when the names of dead terrorists were displayed, each time, I thanked God I am not like them.

Adam Rubenstein ’17 is a prospective political science major from Randolph, N.J. He can be contacted at rubensteina@kenyon.


Comments for this article have closed. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor for publication, please email us at