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.

THE DEATHS OF THOSE WHO SERVE HIT A NERVE

In the aftermath of last week’s carnage, the city of Dallas immediately responded with a vigil held at Thanksgiving Square at noon on Friday. Over the weekend, any number of clergy in the city held special prayer services at their respective congregations. Kol HaKavod! G-d bless them! As one who has participated and even hosted similar events over the years, I cannot help but feel that as necessary as these vigils and services are, that such gatherings are as much for the average Dallas resident, parishioner and congregant as they are for the victims and their families. Having never met those whose lives were snuffed out last Thursday or those in the hospital either fighting for their lives or on the road to recovery, we feel helpless. In addition to making a statement to the families that we are aware of their sorrow, in addition to reminding society that carnage and mayhem will be met with neither indifference nor silence on our parts, we feel the need to do something. We show solidarity.
Solidarity, real solidarity must not in any way be limited to attending a vigil or prayer service. For those of us who’s hearts truly go out to the families of Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa, why not try to find out more find out the bereft parents and siblings as well as the widows, widowers and orphans left behind? Perhaps funds have been established to which contributions can be made. If you are not a fund person, then perhaps you can adopt a family. After the initial shock wears off and the survivors attempt to return to normal everyday living, why not send a card, drop a note or write a letter? As much as a “mitzvah” as it is to be present at a vigil or to attend a memorial service, it’s an even “bigger mitzvah” to reach out to the stricken families after they have become yesterday’s or last month’s news. A note to bereaved family members from a complete stranger thanking them for sharing their loved one, so that he/she could protect the residents of this city quite often means more than you can imagine.
For those who are react “Jewishly” and go into “pay a Shivah call mode” there’s no reason why you can’t convert a Shivah platter into an invitation to a Thanksgiving dinner, assuming the family is pretty much all alone. Better yet, let Tiferet share in your mitzvah. Anyone who brings family of stricken Dallas Police Force officers to one of our many Shabbat dinners throughout the year does so compliments of Tiferet. Just get them here and the meal for both host and guest is on us!
As Jews, we have a unique role. We can reach out to the family and tell them that even though we cannot in any way fathom their distress, much less feel their pain, we do share something in common. Because of our history, we know what it is like to lose our loved ones for no other reason that they were Jews. To those who have lost loved ones for no other reason than they were police officers, please know that you are not alone and that we have a hug waiting for you.