OPEN ARMS AND NOT POINTED FINGERS

It sickens me that the mass onslaught at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida last week will in all likelihood not be the last time an out of control individual snuffs out the lives of innocents who in all likelihood never even knew their assailant, much less meant him any harm. It sickens me to realize the time, effort and energy the people of this country expend on useless and meaningless recrimination in the aftermath of a mass killing.

As one who has been a “first responder” when hearts have been broken and lives have been shattered, I would like to suggest that when needless tragedy strikes, there are meaningful and constructive steps we can take.

Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan (1839-1933) better known as the Chofetz Chaim has been known for his time and energy devoted against “Loshen Hara” or gossip and more specifically slander. He understood only too well the deleterious effects character assassination had on people. I have every reason to believe that the Chofetz Chaim would be left speechless at the hyper rapid speed achievable nowadays when it comes to character assassination, thanks to the internet. Called cyberbullying, victimized students have in some cases responded through suicide and even homicide when their characters have been sullied through “Loshon Hara.” A recent cause celebre has been for concerned citizens to take up the cudgel against pornography on the internet and its effect on teenagers. That’s perfectly fine. Yet, I’m not aware of any student taking an assault weapon, entering his school and randomly snuffing out the lives of other students after having been exposed to pornography on the internet. Perhaps equal, if not greater effort should be mustered by concerned citizens against “Loshen Hara” or cyberbullying than is being mustered against pornography.

A good many American presidents had dreams for this country. For Franklin Roosevelt, it was a “New Deal;” for Lyndon Johnson, it was a “Great Society.” I find it unbelievable that American presidents have not been appalled by mass killings at schools, places of worship and community centers; I find it utterly disgraceful that not one President of these United States of either political party has spoken out about how horrendous and unacceptable victims of cyberbullying in our society have reacted to as well as responded to the evil of character assassination. Similarly, I find it utterly disgraceful that that not one President of the United States of either political party has spoken out against those responsible for the evil of character assassination through cyberbullying. Isn’t it time for zero tolerance to be dispensed against cyberbullying? If pollution of the atmosphere was deemed as an evil dooming our lives, shouldn’t pollution of the character also be deemed as an evil dooming our lives?

I was not quite 15 years old, when the Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated. What I remember most, is Senator (Bobby) Kennedy announcing the assassination to an unsuspecting crowd in Indianapolis: “For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.”
Because mass killings have been taking place for the last quarter of a century, the numbers of family members whose lives have been turned upside down, probably number the hundreds, if not thousands. Let the bereaved reach out to the bereaved. Let them echo the words of Bobby Kennedy “I had member of my family killed.” Let them substantiate the teachings of our rabbinic sages who reminded us that “words that come from the heart find their way into the heart of others.”

Now is not the time for pointing fingers. Now is the time to turn with open arms to the family members of those whose lives were tragically and senselessly snuffed out.

THE WHITE BAYIT*

With the Presidential race in full swing now that the Iowa caucuses have taken place, it was more than with a modicum of interest that I read about a recent poll revealing that ten percent of Americans were less likely to vote for a Jewish presidential candidate, while eight percent of Americans were more likely to vote for a Jewish presidential candidate. Although my attitude is “polls be damned”, still and all I began thinking about the Jewish factor in presidential elections. Despite the fact that I have absolutely no desire to assess any data, I nevertheless ask that you consider the following three questions, which will hopefully never reach the desk of any pollster:
What is more important to you, a Jew running for president, whose Judaism is purely an accident of birth in every aspect, or a non-Jew running for president who is a staunch supporter of Israel? Whether we like it or not, there exists a Jewish vote in this country, despite the fact that at best, we are a paltry 2% of the population; whether we like it or not, of the Jews who do vote in this country, there are those who select their candidate based solely on that candidate’s attitude (perceived or real) towards Israel. Perhaps neither is a factor for you, in that come Election Day, your sole concern is which candidate is a better choice to lead this country in the direction you feel this country ought to take.
If it makes no difference to you whatsoever whether or not a presidential aspirant is Jewish, does a Jewish presidential aspirant’s level of Jewish observance matter to you? Would you prefer a Jewish president who at best attends synagogue services on the High Holy Days and whose Shabbat observance is limited to Shabbat dinner every Friday night, or would you beam with pride at a Shabbat observant president (who will set Shabbat aside in times of national security) who davens three times a day and eats strictly kosher? Is it safe to say that an Observant Jew as president of this country is perceived to be less of a threat than a devout Catholic or is there no difference? Does the same hold true when comparing an Observant Jew with a pious Protestant?
Are you more troubled by the fact that 10% of voters in this country are less likely to vote for a Jew running for president than you are proud of the fact that 8% of voters in this country are more likely to vote for a Jew running for president? Please understand that among the 10% there are Jews who would prefer not to see a Jewish president because they are concerned or perhaps better stated afraid of any anti-Semitic backlash, should a Jewish president take any unpopular positions, become involved in a scandal, or see the economy tank during his presidency. Alternatively, among the 8% there are bound to be non-Jews who see a Jewish president as being endowed with special qualities by virtue of being a member of HaShem’s chosen. If there are non-Jews in this country who see a Jewish doctor and a Jewish lawyer as possessing fabulous skills, then perhaps they regard a Jewish president much the same way.
Whether or not we will live to see a mezuzah at the front doorpost of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue makes for good discussion. “Do we really care”, is an entirely different question. The very fact that we can even entertain these questions says a great deal about these United States of America. It also says a great deal about us as Jews.

* Bayit is Hebrew for house