TWENTY-FOUR LIGHT-YEARS FROM TULSA

By Rabbi Zell

One of the earlier works for Burt Bachrach and Hal David (What the World Needs Now, I’ll Say a Little Prayer for You) was the rarely remembered “Twenty-four Hours from Tulsa”. Although it centers around falling in love, the song is pitiful and pathetic, in that it is addressed to one who was needlessly wronged. Furthermore, the very title is ludicrous, in that the boyfriend was so close – much closer than twenty-four hours – to coming back to the waiting hands of the one he purportedly loved in Tulsa. I thought of the song, not so much because of the hundredth anniversary of the murder and mayhem that took place in Tulsa a century ago, but because of the asinine attempts on the part of leaders to redress the horrendous happenings of May 31 and June 1, 1921.
I have no idea if it ever happened to you, but I have had a German Christian of my age, come up to me to offer a “mea culpa” for the Holocaust. I was uncomfortable, to put it mildly. Neither he nor I were even on the “drawing board” during the Holocaust. In no way did we wrong me. Both of us were born close to a decade afterwards. Who is he to apologize? Who appointed him to do so? Who authorized me to accept such apologies? So too, is the case with Tulsa. If any apologies are to be offered, it would be assembling the offspring of those who besmirched humanity so that they could express remorse to the offspring of the victims. Even so, such an act of contrition would fall woefully short, in that from a Jewish point of view, no child should be held responsible for the sins of his or her father. I could be wrong, but contemporary society has not yet sunk to the level of digging up dirt on parents and grandparents, as they set about ruining the careers and lives of innocent individuals.
Jennifer Cavalleri (played by Ali MacGraw) was onto something when she told Oliver Barrett IV (played by Ryan O’Neal) “love means never having to say you’re sorry” in Erich Segal’s “Love Story”. Love means making it up to the one you wronged. There is good reason, that Yom Kippur is a triple play of “Slach Lanu, M’Chal Lanu, and Kapper Lanu” or “forgive us, pardon us and grant us the opportunity to atone. It is “Kapper Lanu” that is of greatest importance. Asking for forgiveness is pro forma. It’s all about making amends. If our venerable sages (sic) of today are to be seen as genuine, then they would do well to hold the apologies. I have yet to hear or read one of our elected officials offering to “make things right”. Other than budgeting funds (the panacea for all wrongs in this world), not one of them has yet to come up with a plan or suggestion showing real remorse. Until that happens, our elected officials show little respect towards those to whom they apologize and even less respect for themselves.
I have no idea whether this applies to the entire human race, but I cannot help but feel that there are those, whose roots are from central and western Europe, who have a certain air of superiority about them. We saw this when Christian missionaries went into Africa to “civilize” and enlighten the indigenous population. Funny, I don’t recall that they received an invitation to do so. Similarly, these very same righteous Christians pulled off the same “shtick” in this part of the world, dehumanizing both the indigenous population as well as those who arrived on this shore from Africa. And now, a century after bringing about uncalled for and unwarranted death and destruction in Greenwood, our elected officials have the chutzpah to unilaterally address the dastardly actions that took place a century ago. Has it ever occurred to any of our great leaders to sit down with Black leaders of Tulsa, descendants of those whose lives were ruined during the horrific event, and ask them for direction in attempting to right a wrong?
The media decided to make a big tzimmes over what transpired in Tulsa a century ago. By all means! Perhaps the day will come when the media will be able to make an even bigger tzimmes over our elected officials meeting with descendants of the victims of Greenwood and then set about the rebuilding of a neighborhood that was diabolically destroyed and atoning to families whose were snuffed out.