Over the last week, I noticed that horror over the recent Pittsburgh synagogue massacre did not lead to the kind of partisan finger-pointing which usually accompanies outrages of this type.
Certainly there was a fair share of finger-pointing at the current administration, coupled with counter-accusations that those who wanted to use the tragedy of Pittsburgh to further their own political agendas were dishonoring the dead. But such Internet-fueled rages were fewer than one might have expected, given how quickly other mass killings turned into clashes over guns vs. mental illness I described last time.
This may be because the communities most affected, including the Pittsburgh and wider Jewish communities, urged those who needed to “do something” to reflect on their faith (in the case of Jews) and commitment to one another when responding to the outpouring of support from non-Jews around the world.
The power of such a response was brought home to me when I attended services at my synagogue on Friday night, the first ones held since Pittsburgh. At that event, the clergy addressed the overflow crowd of Jews and non-Jews with a message of hope, rather than despair or anger.
Helping those who were directly impacted by the crime was obviously first priority, and anyone with a connection to Tree of Life through family, friends or personal history, were asked to stand so that the community could show their love and support. But the rest of the service was dedicated to life, and not just life going on after a tragedy, but to the life-affirming, celebratory moment Jews are privileged to experience once a week in the form of Shabbat.
No doubt there were members of the audience able to find fault in some of the things that were said that evening. Even I couldn’t help but think about Elder’s warning against taking the murderer at his word that he targeted Tree of Life due to their embrace of refugee issues when our rabbi highlighted the killer’s excuse for why he did what he really wanted to do, which was to kill lots of Jews. Upon reflection, however, it seemed more than uncharitable to characterize this story of solidarity as anything other an attempt to illustrate the open heart of a Jewish community which has decided to use its resources to help others now that our own refugee issues are largely behind us.
More importantly, the embrace of life-affirming principles, represented by the #ShowUpForShabbat effort embraced by millions across the globe, got me thinking about not just Jewish tragedy, but Jewish strength and longevity that has allowed us to survive for Millenia while other peoples vanished into history.
A natural – and understandable – tendency, after all, is to sink into despair when confronted with murderous anti-Semitism coming to America, especially in the context of the skyrocketing of attacks on Jews worldwide, accompanying (and excused by) the war against the Jewish state. But despair can easily turn to fatalist expectations of doom. But there is a cure. For Shabbat in general, and the most recent Shabbat in particular, demonstrates Jewish faith in week-by-week renewal that has kept us around fifty-two weeks a year for countless centuries.
Another natural response to the attack would have been boundless rage. But, as we have seen in societies that have devoted themselves to stoking and exacerbating such rage (especially societies who blame the Jews for their own failings and crimes), anger untempered by hope can lead to not just despair but to trillions in wasted dollars and, far more importantly, millions of wasted lives.
So, as tempting as it might be to turn our enemies’ tactics against them, especially when they ruthlessly and relentlessly assault the most important Jewish project of modernity, we must avoid anything that might turn us into those enemies. One need only look at Gaza to see where that can lead. Similarly, one need only look at Jerusalem – ancient and modern – to see what we can accomplish when we play to our strengths, and act like the people we are.
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