The Shame of it All

This past Wednesday morning I had the great pleasure of walking into the Old City of Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate. It’s always enormously exciting to enter the Old City. The sights are immediately breathtaking. For me, it’s the mix of humanity. I see African tourists, Asian pilgrims, a Japanese group that comes to Israel every year to ask forgiveness for a terrorist attack perpetrated at Lod Airport by the Japanese Red Army in 1972, Hasids, delusional seekers, Swedish hippies ― and this is within the first 500 feet of the entrance… The cacophony of languages mixed in with Arab storekeepers hawking their tchotchkes, little kids yelling, and so forth ― it’s a bracing moment, like walking headlong into a strong, warm wind.
As we navigated our way down the steps, we arrived at the Sinjlawi family store. I love this place and the copious jewelry they sell. I’ve been several times, and the owner, Eddie, always gives me a big hug. We spoke briefly and then he said, “Do you know what happened in Florida?” I sadly informed him that I had heard the awful news. And then Eddie looked at me with such sadness, and said, “I am so sorry for all those families. It must be so hard to live in such a violent country.”
Eddie said these words without a trace of irony, words of consolation for a foreigner from a country with a big problem. Odd, isn’t it? All these years I’ve looked at the Middle East and the high stakes of life here. This, the land of Israel, is the place of tsuris, the place of violence and terrorism. This is the place with a government sold on divisiveness as a legitimate form of statecraft. Israel is the place where the leader is leading under a cloud of doubt about his illegal behavior, where law enforcement officials are characterized as a tool of the opposition.
Eddie’s genuine empathy broke my heart and thoroughly confused me. As I listened to various broadcasts later that day from leaders who want to talk about mental health and not the public health risks of copious easily obtainable AK 47s, I realized the extent to which we have lost enormous moral standing in the free world, and amongst ourselves as Americans.
How long can a country endure when its public school space, the pride of our nation, the melting pot of American society, is contaminated by violence? When children develop school phobia after a murder spree, how can we blame them for their anxiety? How do we explain to them why nothing has changed since Newtown?
I’ve written about children being murdered before. I have expressed outrage. I have bemoaned the terrible lasting damage done to families that have lost their babies to bullets. I have angrily called out elected officials on the dole from the NRA, demanding justice transcend campaign gifts.
It is cathartic to have a place to express my personal pain and my moral outrage as your rabbi. But I already feel deep in my soul that, like before, nothing will change. I’m beyond anger ― it has been extinguished by too much disappointment. I fear that cynicism, borne in the crucible of inaction and indifference, has tarnished my soul. “It must be so hard to live in such a violent country.” It is hard. It is manifestly obscene.
What happens now? Nothing. Children will be taught new duck and cover strategies. There will be more drills. Experts will sell school systems Kevlar vests and blankets. And mark my words; in three weeks we will have another school shooting. Parents will weep. Children will stay awake at night in anguish and fear. And we will comfort the afflicted with love and sympathy, while those who might make a difference will play on, protecting their self-interests, mocking the dead with their inaction. Every time a child is murdered in a school, our nation sinks lower than a flag at half-mast. It’s all so clear from the City of Peace.

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