Triggers and Twisters

Earlier this week, the first anniversary of the catastrophe of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh where 11 innocent lives were snuffed out and 7 sustained injuries ought to have resonated more deeply with Jews of Dallas than with Jews anywhere else in this world. With last week’s tornado touching down and wreaking havoc in various neighborhoods in the city, particularly the neighborhood surrounding Tiferet, those who witnessed devastation and those who suffered devastation would do well to consider the following.

The catastrophe at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last year occurred because the assailant specifically targeted Jews. Armed with a semi-automatic rifle and three handguns, Robert Bowers set out to murder Jews. Neither worshipers at any church or the faithful at any mosque were in his cross hairs. It’s highly doubtful, that it would have mattered to the murderer, if the site he chose to attack was a Reform Temple, a Conservative Synagogue, an Orthodox Shul or a Chabad House. Unlike so many of us, anti-Semites rarely distinguish or differentiate. In their eyes, one Jew is as worthless and as expendable as another.

Not so, last week’s tornado. Other than zeroing in on specific neighborhoods, it made no difference to the tornado, whether its victims were Jew or Christian,  Hindu or Moslem or any other group. Similarly, it mattered not to the tornado whether it destroyed a business or a private home, a nursery school or a senior living residence. One could perhaps even argue that not only were neighborhoods chosen at random, but homes and buildings were either hit or missed in the most haphazard of ways. One house sustained severe damage, while the house right next to it, was minimally affected. Put differently, the destruction in Pittsburgh came about, because they were Jews; the destruction in Dallas came about, (thankfully and miraculously) just because.

Pittsburgh was yet another example of human cruelty. One can argue whether such attacks are perpetrated as copycat crimes; one can take a stance either for or against gun control. All will agree however, that what took place in Pittsburgh was the result of man’s inhumanity against man.  Driven by unrestrained hatred anger and intolerance, the assailant in his twisted mind, made a concerted effort to improve society by snuffing out the lives of Jews, whose only “crime” was attending Shabbat services at a synagogue.

The Dallas tornado was the exact opposite. I believe that the insurance companies are spot on when they categorize tornadoes and hurricanes, floods and wildfires as acts of G-d. With Yom Kippur a mere three weeks behind us, let us recall a medieval acrostic (among the many ark openings prior to Kedusha) where each stanza begins with the words “Ma’aseh Elohim” or “it is the work of HaShem.” A tornado is no different. It too, is Ma’aseh Elohim. As such, tornadoes not only defy understanding and explanation as to why they occurred, but they serve as reminders that human ingenuity and strength are laughable, or perhaps better stated lamentable.

Last but in no way least,  our response to Pittsburgh and our response to the tornado revealed a great deal about us. From coast to coast, synagogues as well as other Jewish buildings in this country have adopted strict security measures. The synagogue I attended last week had a parked police vehicle replete with flashing lights, two uniformed officers, as well as plain clothed security, standing at the door of the building. Congregants insisted on feeling secure and knowing that they are secure as they offered up prayers that pretty much indicated that they placed their faith in HaShem.

Human response to last week’s tornado, as well as other acts of G-d, evokes a far different response. We rebuild and continue as before, with an implicit resolve that no act of G-d is going to change or interrupt the way we live. Perhaps, we humans have greater faith in HaShem than in our fellow man; perhaps we humans fear our fellow man more than we fear HaShem. Perhaps the words of the prayer prior to removing the Torah from the ark say it best: “Not in any human do I put trust … only in the G-d of heaven.” Something to think about.

ON THE EVE OF DESTRUCTION

In all probability, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Jews will be fasting this Sunday, as yet another Tisha B’Av is commemorated. It may very well be that the rabbinic sages who experienced and survived the horrors of the Temple in flames, would find it extremely hard to believe that the mourning over a destroyed Temple continues and perhaps in some cases has even intensified in some respects two thousand years after the calamity.

If the message of Tisha B’Av is to be truly understood and appreciated, it would seem to me that our focus as Jews not be in any way limited to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There are other destructions that are not only worthy of notice, but actually cry out for our attention. Hopefully we will shed a tear for them as well.

The destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem was a two-time event. The destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians occurred in the year 586 B.C.E. The destruction of the second Temple by the Romans occurred in the year 70 C.E. Since then, the Babylonians have not destroyed any Temples; since then, the Romans have not destroyed any Temples. Neither has any other nation, for that matter.

As members of the human race, we Jews have witnessed and unfortunately, in some cases gone so far as to participate in, other destructions, however. Long before the destruction of the two Temples, and ever since the destruction of the two Temples, we have destroyed relationships. Intentionally or not, we have turned the priceless loyalty of friends into a worthless heap of ashes. Placing personal agenda over devotion, elevating ego over esteem, we have destroyed cherished friendships, close friendships. Our siddurim or prayer books don’t seem to be at a loss for words when it comes to the reconstructing Jerusalem and rebuilding the holy Temple. Yet, when it comes to reconstructing a relationship or rebuilding a friendship, those very same siddurim are ominously silent. How very sad!

As members of the human race, we Jews have witnessed and, in some cases, gone so far as to participate in, the destruction of careers. One thing humans are quite adept at is character assassination. Sixty plus years ago, a lackluster senator from Wisconsin, aided and abetted by the press, as well as other media outlets, was catapulted to national fame as he fanned the flames of fear of the American people. A nation of “Chicken Littles” were caught up in a frenzy of this country being infiltrated by Communists. “We have to do something,” clucked the frightened fowl. And so, they put a kibosh on careers and ruined reputations. And yes, some whose lives were left in tatters even ended up committing suicide. Yet, lest one think that “Chicken Littles” have flown the coop, one would do well to consider the spate of sexual harassment charges that have been recently hurled. Who would ever have believed that there are secretaries who consensually misbehaved with their superiors, only to suddenly decide to take the moral high road after having been spurned and cast aside by those very same superiors as the appetites of those superiors are whetted by other women?

Speaking of suicides, did you know that suicide is the second ranking cause of death for individuals 15-24 years of age? Thanks to “cyber-bullying” otherwise known as using the internet to spread malicious gossip to ruin someone’s reputation, more and more of our youth are taking their own lives. Yet, parents from all social and economic strata refuse to even consider the possibility that their child is either in harms way as a potential victim, or is heaven forbid one of the perpetrators of such reprehensible behavior. Instead, time and energy are expended for the physical safety of the student, while the spiritual safety of that same student goes unnoticed.

As we mourn the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem this Sunday, we would well to also mourn relationships and friendships we’ve destroyed, careers we’ve shattered and teenage suicides to which we sit by idly and do nothing.