Hayim Katsman came to Seattle to do PhD studies at the University of Washington. His friend, Yoav Duman, introduced him to me. Hayim asked me to speak to one of his university classes and I did. As always, I was grateful for the opportunity to speak to university students.
Hayim returned to Israel after earning his degree. He lived in Kibbutz Holit in southern Israel, and was an adjunct at Ben Gurion University and Hadassah College. Yoav tells me he was also a full-time car mechanic at the kibbutz, and that he DJed contemporary Arab music. He was an extraordinary man. He was “wise beyond his years,” Yoav said. So true.
Yesterday, Palestinians assaulted his kibbutz and he was murdered in his home. His teachers, colleagues, friends and family are devastated. A light has been snuffed out. Hayim, like every murdered soul–Palestinian and Israeli–amidst this madness, had a great contribution to make to this world. His death, as with the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is senseless.
Jews traditionally say, on learning of a death: baruch dayan emet (“blessed is the true judge”). But in the cases of these murders on both sides, I cannot say this. Rather, I prefer the saying of the heretical Talmudic rabbi, Elisha Ben Abuya: leyt din v’leyt dayan (“there is no justice and there is no judge”). No human can make sense of this. Nor can anyone believe God wants this carnage, or that there is a reason S/He knows alone.
The only appropriate thing is to say: y’hi zichro baruch (“may his memory be blessed”). I am sure Hayim’s colleagues will commemorate him in ways he would have appreciated.
Hayim’s death does not merit feelings of vengeance, as much of Israel feels in the wake of 700 of their fellow citizens killed. He would not have wanted that. He would want to try to find a decent, humane way forward (if that is possible). Indeed, it must be possible.
The rabbis deliberated about the Roman circuses in which the fates of gladiators were determined by the approval of the crowd. Some said that no Jew should step foot in such a heathen place. But others said that they should do so in order to make their voice heard on behalf of life and mercy: “in a place where there is no humanity, strive to be human.”
The Middle East is a place that knows no humanity. But we are duty bound to vote for life and mercy. We must honor the memory of the victims, all of them. Even if everything around us cries for vengeance. We must be a witness to human decency despite the madness.