Eighty years ago this week.
Fear and dread engulf European Jewry as Jewish businesses and synagogues are attacked.
My grandmother remembers the day when her grandfather, the family patriarch, came home and announced, “Our neighbors won’t talk to us. Our customers have abandoned us. The police are hunting us down. Everyone has turned on us. We have no future here. We must flee.”
That fateful decision eventually led my grandmother to the shores of America.
A week ago today.
Jews gather to pray on Shabbat. Suddenly, they are attacked. Eleven sacred lives are taken in a brutal act of anti-Semitism.
Dan Mead, a brave officer with the Pittsburgh police department, goes in first. He is injured – taking a bullet for the Jewish people – but his team overcomes the gunman, saving lives.
Make no mistake. America of today is not Europe of the 1930s. Our country’s hallmarks are acceptance, tolerance and kindness.
From Pittsburgh to Boise, law enforcement is protecting Jews. Strangers are bringing flowers. Neighbors are offering support.
From the horror, grief and pain of this vicious assault, the real America has emerged. The true character of this nation won’t tolerate hate or bigotry. Idaho – indeed America – has come together.
Life after Pittsburgh will never be the same. Nonetheless, I’m hopeful. I’m optimistic, knowing that one depraved individual – or his ilk – does not represent the spirit of our communities.
What, then, is the path forward? How do we respond to abject tragedy and senseless animosity?
The Talmud, Judaism’s legal code, asserts that whoever saves a single life is considered to have saved an entire world.
I’d like to suggest that – aside from the powerful testament to the infinite value of human life – the Talmud is sharing a deeper message. Perhaps the Talmud is also proposing a course of action for those moments when we wish to save an entire world, to change the course of history.
In the coming days and weeks, Jews and Americans will certainly engage in many conversations about the turbulent times our country is experiencing. These conversations – be they about security or the disturbing increase of hate groups – are an important component of our collective response.
I would like to focus, however, on a different response.
A joke is told of a husband sharing the secret to his marital harmony:
It’s simple. I make all the big decisions and I let my wife make all the small decisions.
I decide whether America should launch a new war, whether the government should raise taxes and how to eradicate malaria.
I let my wife deal with the small stuff – choosing which house we should live in, where the kids should go to school and our next vacation.
We often strive to solve the global problems facing our society. It’s a noble goal.
It’s also frustratingly elusive and largely out of an individual’s control.
To be sure, we ought to engage in our civic causes. But, the biggest return on our investment is in the so-called little things.
Reaching out to mend a damaged relationship, spending more time with our families and taking daily stock of our spiritual lives – are all within our power.
Darkness has indeed reared its ugly head. But – like the individual acts of first responders who ran toward gunfire – our actions will have the greatest impact.
The millennia-old words of the Talmud ring true. If we each save one single life, the entire world will be a brighter place. Those are results we can count on.
We can’t change the past or bring our loved ones back to life. But, we can create a brighter future.
As we mourn their untimely loss, let’s remember that bringing more goodness to the world will fulfill their unrealized dreams.