Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Peacemaker's Tragic (and Unnecessary) Death

I generally avoid writing about the Middle East, because what is happening there really makes me sad.  Like many American Jews, I am pro-Israel (although not especially fond of the country's current ultra-conservative government), and I am in favor of a Two-State Solution.  But these days, there are fewer people who hold out much hope that Israeli Jews and Palestinians can ever find a path to peace.  I understand that each side in the conflict has its own narratives about why peace is so elusive, but rather than allowing this post to devolve into blame and recrimination, I want to pay tribute to someone who tried to make a difference... but was not allowed to do so.

I don't think I ever met Richard Lakin in person, but I certainly knew his work.  He and I exchanged messages on Twitter a few times, usually about educational issues (he opposed endless high-stakes tests, and wanted to see the classroom once again be a place for critical thinking, where a child's curiosity was encouraged).  He was a passionate advocate for teachers, and he believed that a good education could be life-changing, especially for kids from impoverished backgrounds.  He wrote a beautiful book called "Teaching as an Act of Love," and even after retiring from being a high school principal, he continued to tutor and to help disadvantaged students. 

In 1984, he and his family moved to Israel, where he brought that same passion and love for learning.  He was committed to peaceful coexistence between Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and he and his wife established a school in Jerusalem that taught English to students from all religious backgrounds.  He also devoted many hours to promoting better communication and more understanding among the various religious and ethnic groups.  By all accounts, he was loved and respected, even by those who might not always agree with him.

Several weeks ago, Richard Lakin was riding a bus, when two armed Palestinian men boarded and began attacking the passengers with knives and guns.  Mr. Lakin was both shot and stabbed repeatedly.  He never recovered, and died yesterday.  He was 76 years old. 

I write this because acts like the murder of Richard Lakin seem so senseless.  Here was a man who came to Israel to try to promote peace, a man who was admired by both Jews and Muslims.  When his obituary was posted (you can read about his life in more detail here: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/10/27/newton-native-attacked-israel-dies/yIPcCK019gpthdSK6yITWJ/story.html), some of the online comments immediately blamed the "Israeli Occupation" and seemed to defend the men who murdered him.  I cannot accept that.  Whatever your feelings about Israel's policies, Mr. Lakin was not responsible for the lack of progress in the peace process, nor can he be blamed for the frustration felt by many Palestinians.  He came to Israel to try to make a positive difference.  And he died for no good reason, the victim of an act of senseless hatred.

I agree that there are extremists on both sides in the Middle East, and I agree that these extremists are currently dominating the conversation.  But whatever our religious views, and however we may feel about the current Israeli government (or about the current Palestinian leaders, for that matter), we cannot sit idly by and allow the extremists to win.  Although Richard Lakin's voice has been silenced, I hope other educators and advocates will continue his work.  He would not want us to give up on the dream that one day, Israeli Jews and Palestinians can learn to live and work together, as friends and colleagues rather than enemies.  Although the odds of a positive outcome have often seemed long, Mr. Lakin never wavered in his commitment to doing the right thing; he continued to believe in the power of education, and he continued to believe peace was possible.  For now, the world has one less peacemaker, but I hope that others who share his views will soon pick up where he left off.  And may the memory of Richard Lakin inspire acts of kindness, rather than further acts of violence. 

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