There are times when I am proud to be an American, and there are times when I am down-right ashamed of the US. A few days ago a young white man visited an urban African-American church in the upper South, and after an hour of sitting in on a congregational Bible-study session, gunned down nine parishioners. Within two days he was caught, and his vile, racist, hate-filled ideas and words held up as evidence a particularly disgusting and sick personality.

This man was the sole gunman, but he is the product of many shameful conditions and trends. He tapped into a horrid racist ideology that has poisoned and weakened the United States for centuries. He is just one of way too many hate-filled people who take advantage of easily available firearms, and became the latest alienated, violent person (almost all men) who used guns and excuses to kill several people. And once again, too many people just throw up their hands and sigh "We can't do anything."

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There are simple, broad ways to describe and analyze this terrible story of carnage, and there are long-winded and convoluted theories as well. The vast majority of Americans are dealing with this story of horror out of Charleston, South Carolina and I think that Jews need to grapple with the issues as well. We cannot just say, oh, they were Blacks. We Jews could have been targeted and have been targets, world over. We cannot just say, oh, they were Christians. They were in their house of worship and we could be targets in one or more of our shuls as well.

But we should not just view this as a story about an unfortunate group of "them", nor couch the story as something that could happen to us but thank Gd it didn't. We should also view this story as quite simply, people who were killed in cold blood for no good reason, and everyone should feel the pain. The pain of loss, the pain of tragedy, the pain of prejudice.

I live in New York City, which some people view as a very violent place. And while we still have more violence and crime than we should, NYC is not among the most violent urban centers. And we do have stricter gun laws here, which may spare us this type of heart-wrenching case. Or at least I hope it does. But I don't want it to happen anywhere in the United State, and I don't want it to happen in a synagogue or church or in any house of worship. Nor do I want it to happen in a school as it did when there was a massacre of young children and staff in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, or in high schools such as Columbine in 1999, or in colleges such as Virginia Tech in 2007. Or on way too many other occasions.

NYC suffered an immense tragedy on the morning of September 11, 2001, the attack on the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. I was just miles away and very cognizant of it because I saw the smoke and flames in downtown Brooklyn (Vanderbilt and Atlantic Avenues, to be exact). I saw mysterious pieces of ash float in the air and settle in my backyard in south-central Brooklyn. I knew a woman who had been in youth groups with me who died that day. Really, nothing can quite compare with this event. But 9/11 has not numbed me to the horrors of something like a church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. And I know that it need not have happened, and it should not happen in Brooklyn nor anywhere else.

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