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Recognizing terror, remembering Ezra Schwartz

Rachel Katzin | Contributing Writer

Ezra Schwartz was just a boy. He was a boy who started food fights at camp and organized cabin mischief. A boy who sought to make others happy and brighten the lives of those around him. He was just a boy—an 18-year-old boy shot dead in his car by Palestinian terrorists on his way home from bringing food to Israeli soldiers.

Ezra Schwartz deserves to be remembered, but have you heard of him? We were all Charlie, so why are none of us Ezra? We adorned our Facebook profile pictures with translucent French flags to show solidarity after last month’s Paris attacks, but where were all of the Israeli flags? We sensationalized terror in Europe, yet we ignore those that occur more frequently throughout the rest of the world. Where was the outcry in January when Boko Haram murdered over 2,000 people in Baga, Nigeria? Where is the outcry now, when an American citizen—a student, a brother, a friend—was murdered in the Middle East because he dared to be a Jew?

In the days following last month’s Paris terrorist attacks, I could not turn on the television or log onto social media without encountering a barrage of headlines and images denouncing terrorism and martyring the victims. In the days following the murder of Ezra Schwartz, I encountered nothing but silence. According to the National Counterterrorism Center, there were 7,206 terrorist attacks in the Middle East and Africa in 2014 and 290 in Europe. I tested myself to name just five of those Middle Eastern and African attacks. I could not and still cannot.

Reports of these attacks were not heavily covered on the nightly news, nor were they widely distributed through print, electronic or social media. But why? Why is it that we as a society focus all of our attention and empathy on the suffering of Westerners, on only attacks that happen to those of Caucasian European descent? Non-Western attacks are no less important, and in some cases, they are even more deadly than those that we spend weeks replaying, analyzing and mourning. This past March, at least 126 people were killed and 345 were injured during the suicide bombings of two Shia mosques in Sana’a, Yemen. But those people were not white, Christian Europeans, so you probably have not heard of them.

In the age of 24-hour news cycles, online journalistic outlets and social media, there are no excuses for the inconsistency with which the media reports on terrorist attacks in different regions of the world. There is plenty of time and room to analyze, denounce and grieve every attack. But the media does not want to talk about Nigeria or Israel or India. We talk about Daesh, and rightfully so, but Daesh is not the only group carrying out terror attacks and Europe is not the primary global victim of terror. According to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, out of the 50 countries most impacted by terrorist activity, only five are located in Europe. By failing to discuss non-Western terror, we practice white European elitism and disregard the suffering of other peoples as less important.

What baffles me the most is that Ezra Schwartz was an American, and yet he is still not being discussed, mourned or remembered nationally. We have forsaken one of our own because he was murdered in a place fraught with terrorist attacks. We hold the politics of the region responsible for the crime, rather than the baseless hatred and anti-Semitism of the attacker. We justify the murder of Ezra as retaliation to the settlement of disputed land, as the result of religious and political differences. Yes, those things exist, but Ezra was not a part of them. He was not a member of the Israeli government. He was not a member of Hamas. He had no involvement with the conflict of the region other than his desire to study his heritage in an unfortunately volatile region. He was murdered for existing.

Born and raised in Sharon, Mass., Ezra Schwartz was a brother, a friend, a son, a class clown, a student, an American and a Jew. Ezra’s religion and heritage were both very important to him, leading him to pursue a gap year at Yeshivah Ashreinu in Bet Shemesh, Israel. He studied Tanakh and engaged in charity b’tzelem Elohim, service in God’s image. In fact, Ezra chose to study at this Yeshivah, or religious learning institution, in particular because of its emphasis on community service.

Washington University sophomore Ari Salzberg was a lifelong neighbor and friend of the Schwartz family and describes Ezra as someone who always acted in service of others, be it through his volunteer work in Israel, his well-intentioned summer camp pranks or his loving devotion to his siblings. “He was the best big brother of all time…He has three younger brothers, and he would just be outside playing with them for four hours a day because he knew they loved it. He would just always do that stuff because he loved those kids, and that would be what he would do with his friends and everything. Whatever people wanted, that’s what he’d do,” Salzberg said.

A funeral for Ezra was held at Temple Sinai in Sharon on the Sunday after his death. The synagogue was filled to capacity, yet hundreds of guests still stood outside in the rain to pay their respects. Salzberg says that this homage evidences the numerous communities and lives that Ezra enriched through his limitless energy and compassion. All of the communities that Ezra was a part of—Yeshivah Ashreinu, Maimonides High School, Camp Yavneh and the State of Israel—feel his loss poignantly. However, Ezra’s lifelong community, the United States of America, has turned a willful blind eye to the cruel loss of one of its best.

While Ezra’s death is indeed a personal tragedy for his family and friends, as well as for the extended and interconnected Jewish community, it must also come to be regarded as a loss for all of humanity and a crime against innocence. The same must hold true for all terrorist acts and for the murder of all civilians. “For me, he was just the most loving kid and the funniest goober of all time. He’s the last person that would ever ask for strife. I think it’s just the most ironic thing in the world that such terror could happen to someone so great,” Salzberg said.

It is easy to disregard events like this as irrelevant to our lives when we see them on the news or, in the case of Ezra’s murder, when we don’t. Ezra was murdered for the simple crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as is the case with the vast majority of terror victims. Yet, somehow, we believe that there is a difference between terror victims in the West and terror victims elsewhere. We as Americans believe that Westerners are inherently innocent but that African and Middle Eastern victims of terror somehow ask for the violence through their mere existence in those regions. We hear about terrorist attacks in Israel, in Syria and in Afghanistan all the time, and these instances blur terrorism into something that happens to “them.” When terrorism occurs in Europe and on our own soil, we are outraged not because the attacks are any more gruesome or groundless, but because now it has happened to us.