I’ve been thinking about Ezra Schwartz a lot. He keeps invading my mind. I see his face when I’m arguing with my seventeen year old and I take a deep breath and tell him whatever stupid thing we’re butting heads about just doesn’t matter. A post with his mom’s Facebook profile tagged pops up in my news feed and I can’t help but click on it. I feel like I’m invading a mourning mother’s privacy, but all the posts are public and none are recent. All I can see is the similarities between us – the gossamer line that separates us. We both love our sons, but I can hug mine (kinehora, knock on wood and all that superstitious stuff). We are both mothers with sons who embraced USY (United Synagogue Youth), but my fifteen year old son just joined two months ago and hers went off to Israel to study and volunteer, only never to return, killed by a terrorist’s bullet as he sat stuck in traffic, returning from delivering food to Israeli soldiers.
If you haven’t heard of Ezra Schwartz, that’s not really surprising. There hasn’t been a lot of mainstream media coverage about his death at the hands of terrorists. You’d think an eighteen year old American college student slain in a burst of violence while studying abroad would garner more attention. In the wake of the tragedy in Paris are we immune to such horrifying news? Is Ezra now just another young person killed at the cusp of spreading his wings and gliding off into freedom and an uncharted exciting new world? Or is his death not all over the media because he was killed in Israel and some people think any violence in Israel is deserved? Or perhaps it’s simply that any violence in the Middle East is just a fact of life, and as long as it’s not on Western soil, it’s not all that shocking? All of these possibilities are dangerous and heartrendingly sad.
I mourned with everyone else over the deaths in Paris. I changed my Facebook profile to the French flag layered over a photo of me signing a copy of my novel – somber despair layered over a happy moment. I posted the Eiffel Tower peace sign graphic on my writer page. I tweeted about my prayers for Paris. I thought about what it must have been like watching a concert (my favorite night out over all else, except maybe a hockey game) and suddenly being plunged into an unimaginable nightmare. I was a music journalist before I had kids and my husband played in a band. I spent so many nights watching live music in my younger days, of course I felt a thread to those killed and even those who escaped, traumatized for life, no doubt. And of course I felt grief over everyone who lost their lives – whether at a cafe or a stadium or an arts venue. I felt grief for children left without a father or mother, for the spouses left widows and widowers, for parents grieving the loss of a child. It’s all horrible. But, so is Ezra’s death – and I felt an even greater connection to his loss. I could so easily imagine it being my own loss.
Many people have told me that my essays make them cry. Well, this one is making me cry. In fact, it’s hard to see the screen through my tears. Maybe it’s because, as I mentioned, my middle son belongs to USY and has long professed a desire to travel to Israel. Maybe it’s because Ezra was from Sharon, MA, a Boston suburb in which my husband and I spent many weekends house hunting back in 2000, before we decided to return to my native Long Island. We have both friends and family who live in Sharon and we have visited it many times. If my husband didn’t get a job in Manhattan and I wasn’t suffering from home sickness, along with morning sickness during my second pregnancy, I have no doubt we would have ended up raising our kids there. And we very well may have ended up friends with the Schwartz family, perhaps attending the same synagogue. Or maybe Ezra’s murder has affected me so, because I have several friends who opted for a year in Israel, before transferring to a more traditional university on US soil. Some of those friends even returned to Israel to make a life there. I have family in Israel.
This essay isn’t about politics. It’s not a condemnation of anything or anyone (except, of course terrorism). It’s simply an essay about the emotions wrapped up in trying to make sense of the senseless, a Sisyphean task if there ever was one. There’s just no way to wrap one’s mind around an eighteen year old cut down before he really had a chance to live, especially when he was gunned down while helping others. It’s even harder when you’re the mother of three boys – all eerily similar to Ezra. Patriots loving, philanthropic-minded, mischievous boys with open smiles and good in their hearts. This is what makes me cry…