The tragedy of contemporary America came home to us in South Hampton Roads this weekend.
We Jews should have been ushering in Shabbat. Our decent, upstanding Gentile neighbors should have been planning for a relaxing early summer weekend. Daily concerns and small pleasures should have been the order of the day—- a cold drink on a warm late afternoon, a checking-in phone call with grown children, a “weighty decision” about which movie to rent for Saturday night....
Instead, we are again in mourning.
Do you know any of the twelve bereaved families in our community? Yes or no, they are nonetheless our neighbors. In an armed and dangerous world, any twelve of us could be any twelve of them. We are now neighbors in sorrow.
As it happens, one of the twelve is indeed part of our circle of shalom. One of our wonderful Gentile students, a regular at our Tuesday morning Bible study, is now a widow.
Senseless. Tragedy compounded by absurdity.
We strive to understand, but the lines do not connect. Some mass murderers are motivated by factors we comprehend, although in no way condone. Some act out of racism, others, from jihad ideology—- killing “crusaders” in Parisian kosher groceries. Does understanding their murderous ideology make it any less absurd?
What we need is not only psychological insight into the mind of the killer. We need to address the political and social factors that make their hatred, or their plain evil, or their derangement, all too effective.
In our fractured political scene, with two major parties each vying for votes from people far from the center of the spectrum, once-fringe groups are enjoying the force- multiplication of being included in major political coalitions. Specifically, the gun lobby has managed a takeover of the entire Republican Party, and has stymied almost all efforts to enact sensible gun control. It doesn’t matter how many atrocities occur; there is no lasting shock that translates to meaningful action.
As in so many areas, we could learn from Israel. That country tightly controls the amount of ammunition that any private citizen can purchase in the course of an entire year.
If you destroy one life, the Rabbis taught, you have destroyed a world. Twelve worlds were destroyed by one man with more ammunition than a sane society would have allowed him to own.
If you save a life, the Rabbis further taught, you save a world.
It’s time for all of us, Red and Blue, to agree that saving innocent civilians from mass murderers will no longer be a divisive, partisan issue. It’s time for our political representatives to do the right thing.
Actually, it’s past time.... but we can’t change the past. We can only save future worlds, by changing the culture today.
That response would be more than just “thoughts and prayers “—- it would be prayers answered.
Rabbi Michael Panitz