Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
I was a 16-year old. My father (56), my younger sister (12) and I were walking home from the movies on a Saturday night along Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. As we were discussing the film we had just seen, we were “jumped” by two young men.
Out of pure instinct, my father wrestled the much younger man who attacked him. The attacker couldn’t fathom the resistance he received, so he emphatically yelled to his partner, “Cut her!”
I looked to my right and sure enough, the young man’s partner held a 10-inch blade to my baby sister’s neck.
My sister pleaded, “Please don’t kill me.”
I desperately yelled, “Pop, he has a knife to Rachel’s neck. Stop!”
My father got a hold of his emotion and pulled back. The man kept the blade at my sister’s neck for another minute. It felt like an eternity. They withdrew, with my father’s whole pants pocket ripped away; his wallet; and our breath. We survived. To this day, I can recall that memory as easily as I can any in the cycle of my being.
The entire episode lasted minutes, but the flashbacks have lasted throughout my years. I review the images and can’t help but to see how things could have been tragically different.
If I had a gun, I would have used it in an instant.
There is a famous Talmudic text, which teaches that we can’t understand the Truth we reject until we actually internalize and teach that Truth like it is our own. Looking back at that night in Brooklyn, I am able to put myself in the shoes of someone who believes the opposite of what I believe. I don’t believe in owning a gun, but I understand why people would want to exercise that right.
I believe in the depth of dichotomy. I have learned volumes from the wisdom of the dialectic. I know the diverse contours of our Nation call for different needs from different types of people. We are all entitled to our point of view. But, given the sleepless nights our country has experienced this past week, I beg from others only what I am asking from myself: that is, simply to engage in a complicated, civil conversation, without running for cover from “dug-in” positions. There is simply too much as stake.
So, I ask the following:
– Most of us believe in the premise that we should be able to go to school, church/synagogue/mosque, the movies and the grocery store without fearing being shot to death. If that is true, how can we hold to this premise, with the proliferation of guns in our country? For those who are staunch defenders of the Second Amendment, what would be wrong with supporting “smart gun” technology, where only those who actually own a gun legally, can use it? I know this would not have stopped what happened in Charleston, but it would have prevented so many other acts of mass violence. And, why should it be so easy for a 21-year-old young man to buy a gun, while he is facing conviction for other crimes? We can own guns, but why, as people who love people, must we subscribe to fewer regulations for gun ownership than we do for so many other parts of our lives.
– It is not as big of a deal nowadays to admit out loud that we are prejudiced about something and someone. In fact, to admit to our bigotry will start us down the road to being different. Racism is still an epidemic in our nation. I am weary of hearing about how we have to have a “big conversation” about race every time something horrific happens related to race. So, I simply ask that we look in the mirror and say out loud what we ourselves fear and hate. And then, let’s talk about it with our family members, friends and clergy. Most of us aren’t horrible people, but we will become pretty darn horrible, if we don’t fess up and then begin to change. Not wanting to; and in fact not changing, is a tacit approval of allowing hate groups to run rampant.
I went to sleep last night, seeing the video of the arrest of the killer from Charleston. I couldn’t help, as others have noted, to contrast the professional manner in which he was arrested as compared to how Eric Garner was arrested (and choked) in Staten Island for selling loose cigarettes. If we love people, then we have to ask ourselves, especially if we are white, how we cannot be utterly enraged by the injustice of the ongoing inequality in our country?
– Finally, when are we going to allocate the appropriate resources to mental health in our country? Dealing with issues of mental health should be like dealing with any part of our physical wellbeing. The more we differentiate mental disease from physical disease, the more we are turning our backs on the problem. We somehow feel that emotional problems should be heroically cured on their own in ways we never ask a patient with cancer or diabetes. Then, we are horrified when someone famous commits suicide; or someone becomes infamous because he goes out and commits mass murder when everyone around him knew for years that he needed help. Why do we stand idly by when people need help which we wish we gave after it is too late?
I don’t write to you to be sanctimonious. I write with the same imperfections of every human being. I write so that we might further our dialogue on the most complex of issues. I write, pleading that we not only walk in the shoes of one another, but that we actually stop to teach the Truth we reject, so that we can authentically delve into the complexity of it all. I write because I fear if we don’t talk, we will continue to mourn the loss of people and a great nation.
What do YOU think? I desperately want to know.