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Jewish Journal

Learning Lessons

The "Palestinian" yeshiva boy reflects on his near-death experience.

by Tuvia Grossman

November 23, 2000 | 7:00 pm

One of the most riveting - and controversial - photographs to have emerged from the recent violence in Israel was that of a bloodied and dazed young man with an angry Israeli policeman standing behind him shouting. While the young man was first identified by the Associated Press, the photo's source, as a Palestinian, it soon became clear that he was an American studying in an Israeli yeshiva - a victim of Palestinians, who had dragged him from a car, beaten and stabbed him; the policeman had been shouting at the Arab assailants. The New York Times, which ran the photo and mistaken caption, published a subsequent correction and follow-up article. Grossman, who is recuperating and undergoing physical therapy for his wounds, feels not only blessed to have escaped his would-be murderers, but richer in a sense for his harrowing experience. He penned the piece below for Am Echad.

As the violence in the Middle East continues, we all have our opinions about the Arab uprising, the peace process and what might be done to halt the bloodshed. There are many lessons we might learn from the events of the past weeks, but an important one is the one I personally learned in a rather unwelcome way.Shortly after the violence first broke out, I happened to be traveling in a taxi in Jerusalem with two friends when our car was attacked by a mob of Arabs who stoned it, forcing us to stop. The crazed mob then dragged us out of the vehicle and proceeded to severely beat and stab us. Somehow - miraculously is the only way I can understand it - we were able to break away and escape to an Israeli Army position down the road.

As a Jewish American student studying in a Jerusalem yeshiva, I had little experience with the hatred that so many Arabs seem to have for Jews. Indeed, I had conflicted feelings about the Arab-Israeli conflict. But none of that would have made any difference to those who assaulted me and my friends. They wanted, to put it simply, to kill Jews. What they ended up doing, though, was to put me on the path to a lesson I will never forget.

The first indication of the lesson came as I lay in my hospital bed, recovering from a stab wound in my thigh, multiple gashes to my head, and a broken nose. I started receiving phone calls from Jews all over the world, each offering support and compassion. Total strangers showed up at the hospital to visit me and asked what they could do to help me. What I began to realize then is what it is that characterizes us Jews as a nation. The Hebrew word is achdut (unity): a connection that binds us all. As I learned in yeshiva, the sages of the Talmud teach that "kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh" (all Jews are intertwined with each other).That concept includes not only all Jews alive today, but all who ever lived, a thought central to the holidays we Jews celebrate. On Passover we are required to imagine ourselves as redeemed from Egypt along with our forefathers; the matzahs and bitter herbs we eat connect us - and have connected every Jewish generation - to the Jews who actually labored in and escaped ancient Egypt. On Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah, we rejoice with the same happiness as if we ourselves were standing at Mt. Sinai receiving the Torah today.

When my picture was published in The New York Times and countless other newspapers and magazines with the distorted caption identifying me as a Palestinian being beaten by the soldier who had actually saved my life, a powerful outpouring of complaints from Jews around the world compelled many of those papers, including The Times, to republish the photograph with a corrected caption and accurate story.I feel that the overwhelming response to the photo that led to that correction was born of the very aspect of achdut that I first realized in my hospital bed. Jews around the world felt that the bond holding us together had been somehow violated by the misidentification of one of our people, and simply refused to allow it to go unchallenged. It was as if the misrepresentation of any Jew was the misrepresentation of every Jew.That is the lesson I learned, the lesson I am still learning, the lesson all we Jews so need to learn. Even if we feel somewhat removed from the situation in Israel, we must all realize that the suffering of any Jew is the suffering of us all. The whole Jewish nation felt assaulted by my assault, and all of us must feel that we, not just our brothers and sisters in Israel, are under siege, threatened and despised. It is not, in other words, "what goes on in Israel"; it is what goes on in all of our hearts.

And as we share in each other's suffering, may we merit to share in common rejoicing as well.

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