Unfortunately, here we are again, six months to the day, another tragedy. Another shooting in a synagogue. Some may be tempted to say that at least this tragedy had less causalities than the previous one, but any casualty is a tragedy. What’s worse is that this follows similar horrific events at first a mosque, then a bunch of churches in different parts of the world. And now we have yet another incident at a college back in North Carolina.
Anti-Semitism has been rising over the last ten years according to the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith. Hatred of Jews has come from out of the fringes into the mainstream. Many are excusing it by couching it with rationalizations that their disdain is merely for the politics of our homeland. There are even Jews who support the ideologies of some of these so-called progressives in their criticisms. With this overt antagonism against us Jews, is it any wonder that this politically correct form of bigotry has been gaining momentum?
Some of our modern sages have said that anti-Semitism is not the end, it’s just the beginning of bigotry against other groups. As we’ve seen rise in anti-Semitic incidents, we’ve seen more and more attacks against other groups. We’ve seen groups go after Muslims, and then Muslim extremists attack Christians on their holiest day of the year. Violence is on the rise.
Solutions are being proposed. The first of the two main ones involve curtailing or even eliminating certain types of guns. Some go so far as to want to ban all private gun ownership, that less guns would mean less violence. Those favoring gun ownership are quick to proclaim that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. They also say that the answer is not less guns, but more; citizens should be armed to confront armed attackers and that is the only way to protect ourselves, to meet force with greater force.
The second main argument is that we need better mental health. We need to identify and help those who are troubled. The problem with that, however, is that many of these people do not have a history of mental health issues, so how do we isolate them? In fact, the shooter in Poway used to go to church with his family on Sundays and no one had a clue.
Some propose closer monitoring of social media for clues, especially certain websites that encourage bigotry. This closer control, however, may lead to more government oversight which means more restrictive access to media which some will proclaim leads us on a slippery slope to tyranny and dictatorship. Still others feel that some freedom in exchange for safety is worth the cost.
This is all very pessimistic and discouraging. Is there a solution? If so, what and how?
How about if we go back to that manual for living, our great book, the Torah? Let us learn from our sages. Our sages were great people who had respect for G-d, yes, but also had respect for other people. They knew how to treat people, but they also knew how to deal with adversity.
Abraham Aveinu and Sarah Emanu usually had their tents open on all sides so that they could welcome travelers. This, by the way, is the prototype and one of the reasons why we get married under a Hupah. They would welcome strangers even in a world of rampant xenophobia. And when he was informed that Sodom and Gemorrah would be destroyed, he pleaded with Hashem on their behalf for mercy.
Moshe Rabbeinu had to endure the complaints of the Israelites who were the benefactors of G-d’s hospitality in the wilderness, and yet pleaded on their behalf after G-d said He was going to destroy them after the Golden Calf incident. Aaron the High Priest, when he wasn’t officiating at the Tabernacle would seek out bickering Israelites and make peace between them, telling each that the other was upset that they were no longer friends. And what did Hillel tell a potential proselyte was the essence of Torah? Simply that what is hateful to yourself, don’t do to others.
Yet with all their kindness and respect, these people acted to defend themselves when the need arose. Abraham raised an army to rescue Lot and his family who were caught in a tribal war. Moses sent out men to make quick work of the Amelekites after they attacked the women and children.
The key is to respect people, to let them know that they matter. And our Torah has no shortage of commandments in that effort. We are commanded—commanded!—to love our neighbors as ourselves, love the stranger and make them welcome. We are commanded to help our brother who’s stuck even if we don’t like them, and in fact, we help someone we don’t like first before helping our friends. On Yom Kippur before G-d forgives us, we have to go out and make peace with those whom we, ourselves, have wronged.
It would seem logical that we need to apply these principals in our daily lives. Maybe if some of these attackers had felt some compassion from others, they wouldn’t have felt the need to seek solace and friendship through these extreme groups.
It has been said that as Jews we are a nation of priests. We have to set an example. We need to embrace these commandments and live their precepts. You see a new person at school or work, introduce yourself and to your friends and make them welcome. Smile at people more. Do what the bumper sticker says and practice random acts of kindness.
One of the speakers at the community Holocaust Memorial made a profound point. She said that Hitler was one person and started World War II. Her goals was to be one person who created peace. What if we all set that as our goal?
King Solomon, in his book of Proverbs stated: “Who is strong? One who controls their passions”. We need to control our passions. Take a deep breath, count to three, and remember that, as the Torah states very often, words matter and can hurt.
If we all practice Judaism, we can make a difference. It can make the difference between an attack or no attack. Who knows? Be that change agent today.