Post-Pittsburgh ponderings

The extremist groups of moaners and malcontents showed callousness and cruelty to the mourners and, by extension, to all Jews.

November 8, 2018 00:55
4 minute read.
Post-Pittsburgh ponderings

WORSHIPERS ATTEND a ‘Show Up For Shabbat’ service at New York City’s JCC Harlem on November 3, a supportive response to the previous Saturday’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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There are certain pivotal events in our lives – happy as well as tragic – that leave an indelible mark on our souls.

For me, that first memorable event was in November 1963, when JFK was assassinated in Dallas (ironically, the city that later would become my home). I recall my father, a lifelong Republican, coming home from work in tears.

“But, Dad,” I said to him with the naïveté of a 10-year old, “you’re not a Democrat!” He froze me with an icy stare: “The president,” he said, “is the president of all Americans!”

Just four years later, our teachers emptied out our school and brought all the students into the street. We blocked traffic – not always a recommended option in Chicago – and we sang and danced for hours. We didn’t realize then just what the Six Day War meant for the Jewish people, but we knew it had to be pretty important.

Then there was 1969 – perhaps the grandest of all years. This was the year of Woodstock and coming of age, featuring the best music ever written; the year that the first human being walked on the moon – two epochal events that are still reverberating through history.

Later came the Yom Kippur War – one of the casualties being a young man whose wedding I had attended just three months earlier. This was followed by Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem, and then our own aliyah.

And now, there is Pittsburgh, a relatively small Jewish community that will forever be branded in our collective psyches as the site of America’s most horrific act of antisemitism. In watching the events unfold over the last days, I feel a profound sadness that such a crime could ever occur on US soil. But I also feel genuine pride in the way that Jews worldwide have rallied to the cause and expressed such sincere solidarity with people – Jews and non-Jews – whom we may never have met, but who are attached to us at the heart.

The world at large has rallied to our cause, in exemplary fashion. When did you last see a major foreign newspaper with a headline in Hebrew?! Or a national sports team wearing a Star of David on their jerseys?

Sadly, there were those selfish individuals who tried to hijack this somber but unifying event by using it to further their own partisan cause, chief among them an incessant ranting against President Donald Trump. Never mind that the rabbi of the Tree of Life synagogue welcomed Trump, and that the president and first lady graciously delivered words of consolation. For some people, all that matters is their own selfish agenda, not the feelings and needs of the wounded.

Abraham our Patriarch teaches us the essential ingredient of hessed, acts of loving-kindness. When the angels came to Abraham’s tent – where he himself was in pain, recuperating from his circumcision – he rushed to greet his guests. Interestingly, rather than ushering them into his tent, he feeds them “under the tree.” The rabbis question Abraham’s hospitality, but then point out that when a wayfarer arrives from a trek through the desert, he needs food and drink immediately; he doesn’t have the luxury of settling down in the tent. The lesson: Giving to others must be completely focused on their needs, not our own; anything else is an act of taking, not giving.

The extremist groups of moaners and malcontents – Bend the Arc, Arc the Bend, Park the Ark Beyond the Bend, or whatever the heck they call themselves – showed callousness and cruelty to the mourners and, by extension, to all Jews, when they decided that the Pittsburgh killings were fertile soil in which to plant their own seeds of discontent. Thankfully – despite the exaggerated coverage given these motley few by this paper’s own political commentator – the Jewish world largely ignored their protests and we admirably closed ranks, showering the bereaved with nothing but love. And that is how it should be.

On the first day of the shiva mourning period for our beloved son Ari, a close friend with whom I had had a bit of a falling out came to see me. Hugging me, he whispered in my ear, “Whatever issues we had between us, whatever our disputes, they are over now. All is forgiven, all is forgotten, only our friendship remains.”

Jews are always going to have differences of opinion, some of them over serious and vital issues that mean the world to us. But none of that matters as much, post-Pittsburgh. For as long we can possibly hold out, let’s hope that the things that bind us far outweigh those that divide us.

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.

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