Beyond the Cusp

October 29, 2018

Synagogue Shooting in Squirrel Hill

 

Eleven people, Jews, were killed and at least six injured including four police at the Tree of Life Synagogue located in Squirrel Hill, a largely Jewish community attached to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For me, this is somewhat personal as when I attended college in Pittsburgh I often walked the streets of Squirrel Hill eating an exquisite corned beef sandwich for lunch at least twice a month, weather permitting. I probably have at least walked by, if not attended services at, this Synagogue. The neighborhood in the early 1970’s was filled with unique Mom and Pop stores selling Judaica and anything else including two head-shops. The people were as wonderful and sweet as you could want to meet. I will always remember the pleasant walks with one of the most special people of my life. But this horrific attack was perpetrated specifically at Jews solely because they are Jews. The same old hatred and falsehoods, anti-Semitic tropes which our forefathers heard in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and, sorrowfully, throughout the world were again found behind the hatred here. He hated the election of President Trump so that was the fault of the Jews despite the known tendency for Jews to vote for the Democrats. He was against immigration from outside of Europe and these were being brought to the United States by Jews, by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) which helps Jewish refugees relocate to the United States. The shooter, identified as 46-year-old Robert Bowers, tweeted moments before entering the Tree of Life Synagogue, “I can’t wait while my people are getting slaughtered….I’m going in.” His social media was riddled with anti-Semitism. He was reported to yell, “All Jews must die!” as he began shooting. The Synagogue was filled with Shabbat observers and a family and friends of a circumcision ceremony for their newborn son. This was an act of pure evil perpetrated by a person so filled with hatred of Jews that everything they saw which they thought was wrong was blamed solely and entirely on the Jews.

 

What is equally appalling is the immediate politicization of this indescribable propagation of hatred which took eleven lives while leaving at least another six with varied injuries. This was not about firearms, this was not about any elections, this was not about politics, this was about the oldest hatred which has infected humankind almost since the inception of faith in a single and unseen deity, Hashem. Bowers may have given a thousand different political reasons for blaming the Jews, a thousand different societal qualms for which he blamed the Jews, it does not matter the reasoning that he hated Jews as those were excuses to satisfy his desire for his hatred of the Jews to be justified so his act would be blessed in his warped, hate-filled mind. This is a condition which arises for varied reasons and through varied means. Sometimes it appears to be heredity as if in the mother’s milk, as is commonly said. This is often because they heard Jews blamed for every ill that befell somebody in their family or it was a common theme in their community. This is what has roiled the Middle East and North African nations and what infected Europe, especially Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Then it can be learned at a later point where it is initially launched by some defining moment or act in the person’s life. Then there are times it just arises seemingly out of nowhere with little to indicate from whence it came. This is often the hardest to understand and is also one which can have the most dangerous implications, as there is no prediction or predilection which serves as a warning that the person has such hatred. This instance, there was plenty of warning signs, just nobody did anything to bring the potential threat to the attention of authorities. That would not have likely resulted in any actual actions, but it is nice to think that warning of somebody who is threatening a community within our greater communities would serve to prevent such acts. The problem with anti-Semitism is it is pervasive enough that if the authorities had to keep tabs on every anti-Semite, they would have little resources to perform any other duties. Anti-Semitism is one of the problems which can only be defeated through education for the time being until we gain a far deeper understanding of the human mind and how we learn to hate. It is as Martin Luther King purported, another hatred formed through bigotry and as baseless as the rejection of people of color and all the mindless and baseless claims he fought against. It was as he stated at a speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on October 27, 1967, at a Civil Rights rally in Boston, Mass as he stated, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!” He recognized this and far more as also stated at the above link.

 

Burning Israel Star of David

 

This shooting will be with the Squirrel Hill community in general and the Tree of Life Synagogue for the foreseeable future as such wounds leave scars which come to mind every time you think of one of the victims or see their relatives and close friends. Such is the nature of these horrible events. There will be the store operated by one of the affected families which will be closed forever leaving a form of dead space even after the new store opens in its place. Certain things in the community will never be the same. What will be the worst remembrance of this trauma will be for the family of the young newborn who was a mere eight days of age and whose bris and naming ceremony was destroyed in an instant of stark terror. This was exactly the same as terror attacks read about which happen in Israel and the trauma to the neighborhood and the congregations will be just as permanent as our memories of such events here. We can share in the indelible feelings of helplessness and victimization which ran through those when the first shots rang through the Synagogue. That sickening feeling deep in your gut which makes you want to wretch while all your mind can think is how can I and those around for whom I care simply disappear and be as far from right here and right now as possible, and you know that no such thing can be performed by mere human beings. Prayers might be running through your head and their content never had more urgency or meaning and those who survive will thank Hashem just that much more sincerely for the time being. Life becomes that much more precious and feelings that much more intense and for many time all but stops and their every movement feels as if they are moving through molasses as it appears to be slowed to almost an enormous effort is being expended to move ever so slowly. Your hear beats faster and so hard you can hear the blood rushing past your ears on its way to the brain which is reviewing options before you can clear your head to control those thoughts. Some moments pass quickly when you remember them but time becomes almost your enemy as it either passes too slow or so fast and you cannot react at that speed. Nothing makes sense and things can even begin to swirl and you feel feint and unable to clearly see what and where things are. Then everything, if you are fortunate, gels and thoughts are crystal clear and you seem to regain control and are able to move with an alacrity which feels as if it is beyond your normal abilities. Then, when you are finally at the end of the threat, and you calm yourself enough to collect your thoughts and emotions and you look at your watch, only fifteen minutes have passed but you feel like it was at least an hour long ordeal. The human body reacts in some ways beyond understanding when one is placed in such a situation where conditions have no resemblance to normal. The feeling of relief at having survived such an ordeal is short-lived as the realization comes and you see that not everyone was as fortunate. Then the reality of the cost of what one just survived but by the grace of fate and Hashem sets in and the melancholy and soul-searching begins. We start to try and find a reason for why we survived and these eleven friends and fellow congregants were not so fortunate. We then find the wounded and, if we are able, we assist them and see that four of them were police who rushed to the scene and you feel gratitude for their heroic efforts which assuredly saved many, possibly oneself. That fills you with the gratitude of living and you once again mutter thanks to Hashem for sparing you and hopefully all those you hold dearest. Not all are that fortunate and they are near their lost loved one completely broken and destitute wondering why not themselves instead. The full gamut of feelings will be found with every person finding their own little place within their consciousness which will provide them even the smallest amount of peace for each moment. Reason cannot account for nor provide any explanation as there is no understanding of why, what or any way to make a better explanation because nothing justifies away the hurt and the horror. Yet, in retrospect, there will be a thousand reasons all of which will prove insufficient, as there is no explaining hate, not pure and unadulterated hate which is at the core of anti-Semitism. There is no reason for such hate and there never has been any reason for such hate but it has endured as the explanation for inadequacies, inequalities and every other complaint held by the anti-Semite because it is easier to blame the Jew than to search within themselves.

 

We could try and continue to explain the actions of Robert Bowers and explore the range of thoughts and reactions of the Congregants present and the police and community who responded to the shooting, the police by rushing towards danger and the community pulling together at the vigil to show solidarity and support for those who died and those who survived as they too will carry the emotional scars on top of everything else for quite a time to come. This was a series of events which the news will dissect until the next tragedy replaces it in the news cycle. Pittsburgh will run with this just that bit longer than the rest of the nation and the world. It will also be carried longer here in Israel as we feel such events as tragic and hope that Jews will realize that they would actually be safer here in Israel. Many find that difficult to believe, but it is actually true. For the Jews of America, if you wish to see what will be your future, just watch Europe as they are but a decade, if that, ahead of the United States and what you witness there you will witness at home in the near future. We do not even desire to think of how many more like Robert Bowers are out there in the United States or across Europe. They are an unseen threat often because they associate with a select group who either completely agree with their every complaint about the Jews or really could not care less one way or the other about their talking evil about the Jews because they are not Jews, they know almost no Jews and thus they do not really care about the Jews. That is another thing about many people to whom the Jews may as well be those aliens from Zeta Reticuli whose saucer just crashed and are setting up house somewhere in the mountain of central Wyoming. This is often why such people who fester such a burning though baseless hatred within are seldom brought to the attention of the authorities. Their acquaintances often simply think of their anti-Semitic ramblings are nothing more than their means of expressing their frustrations and doubt that they are truly serious, let alone actually going to act upon such feelings. These are the way some simply explain their shortcomings or the things which fail to meet their expectations. They did not get a raise because of those Jews, of course. The news which they do not like or reports which show events celebrating something they hate politically it is because of the Jews. That is just their expression and what does it hurt. The problem is that there does exist a percentage of anti-Semites who just might act upon their hate which is what happened in Pittsburgh.

 

Aliens from Zeta Reticuli

Aliens from Zeta Reticuli

 

Often people think of the Jews as being as alien as our little friend pictured above. There are people who believe that Jews look different and that they can pick them out in a crowd. Some believe Jews have tails or horns or whatever feature which denotes them as less human. I was fortunate in life as a nearly two meter tall one hundred kilo male, not many people actually desired to strike me. I have had a few instances when it was necessary to stand up for a less size-endowed Jew and it always shocked the anti-Semite that a Jew would not only talk back but actually call them out on their hatred. None had ever decided to take me up on stepping outside, which is to my liking. But none have ever bothered my Jew of less physical dimensions again after our exchange of words. That too is a good thing. Jews, for the most part, are not overly physical and prefer cerebral methods to the use of force, at least in the United States. This is odd as the person responsible for the scientific art of boxing and heavyweight champion of England in 1792–1795 was a Portuguese Jew named Daniel Mendoza. This was back in the day when it was bare knuckle boxing where there were no gloves and the rules were quite simple. The rules were you started with round one and each round went for three minutes with one minute between rounds and you added one to the round counter until one fighter was knocked out or unable to meet the bell and submitted. Mendoza lost his crown to “Gentleman” John Jackson who found his way to victory by seizing Mendoza by his long hair and holding him with one hand while he pounded his head with the other. So much for the “Gentleman” part of his name. As we stated above, there were not very many rules. But all the Jews of the past also had one thing in common with Jews of today, they still were faced with anti-Semitism, the mindless hatred of the other as defined by the Jew. Jews have been the other because it was easy. They lived separate from the rest of the people in a community which often was walled in. Here is the odd thing, the wall was not for the protection of the Jews inside as they did not erect the wall. The wall was to protect the rest of the world from the Jew and to provide the Jew with a limit as to where they could proceed and not be threatened, but dare to leave the ghetto and the Jew had to be wary and very careful as he was on forbidden ground and only at the mercy of any who might lay eyes on them. These walls were built by the Christians and the Muslims to protect themselves from “Jew contamination” or something like that. Sure, there were periods when the Jews were permitted to mix freely and live amongst the rest of the peoples, but they were never permanent and are proving once again to be temporary. This was a wake-up call which will not be heeded for what it portends. This was a call to return to their only real home where they can live more easily as observant Jews, where they are the majority. This was an Aliyah call telling them that Israel is their real home. For every excuse you might have as a Jew for not returning home to Israel, there is a reason to return to Israel which probably belies that very reason with one exception, your aging parents or grandparents require your remaining where you currently reside. What you will not believe is that once in Israel, providing you come with an open mind and expecting little but to be amazed, then you will find that Israel is truly the home of every Jew and welcomed by a community which speaks English as the British saw to that by colonizing almost every corner of the world. Come and spend a month starting, as too many Jews will, in Tel Aviv and once you have had that experience, then visit the periphery. Go to places such as Jerusalem, of course, and Hebron, the Dead Sea and all the other tourist stops and take in the history and the sights. Then visit Tzfat which is a town of artists, Nahariya, which is a beach town largely for other Israelis, Eilat, as it is the southernmost tip of Israel and also a beach resort, and any number of other places not usually seen on the tourist posters. Israel will surprise you as it has a diverse number of places which have their own personality. We love Nahariya and when we visited to get a feel, we were fortunate to stay in Nahariya and were here for the Purim Parade. We definitely advise making it to some smaller town during Purim as the celebration is one of the times of the year that we all come together and celebrate. Holidays in Israel are so completely different than in the United States as in Israel the Jewish holidays are also national holidays and that too is something to be amazed about. Israel, to put it simply, is the Jewish State, period. And it is perfectly safe as Israel does put a great effort into protecting us to the best of their ability.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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