Friday, January 18, 2013

A Tale of Two Stories: Reflections on a Hate Crime

A Chumash vandalized in the incident.

The following appears as my weekly message in our school newsletter for this week:

We have a choice to make.  You do, I do, our community does. 

There has been a lot of talk in our circles this week about evil, madmen, and hate. I’m as guilty as anyone else, if not more so.  Those were the things running through my head as I tried to talk to our boys last shabbat afternoon.  I had never felt as sick to the stomach as I did when I peered under the cover of our Torah earlier that morning to see whether the person who had left messages of hate all over our room, had gone so far as to deface our Torah as well.  As everyone knows by now he had.  And in the most vile of ways.

I was shaken to the core and  I let our kids know it.  I talked about anti-Semitism, because it’s all I could think of.  I told them that as a graduate student and then as an Instructor of Modern Jewish History at Yeshiva University, I gave numerous lectures on anti-Semitism, its roots, and its causes.  But I had never done so in the room where an anti-Semitic attack had occurred – that very same day.  I grew up knowing that my grandparents and great-grandparents had been subjected to unspeakable horrors.  I even visited the places where that happened.  But nothing I had personally experienced compared to this.  So I let the boys know.  And then, when asked, I told a reporter from the Jackson Sun

So the story that emerged was one of hate.  It was the story of Jewish persecution and Jewish victimization from Egypt to Jackson, with quite a few pit stops along the way.  The story is factual.  It’s part of who we are and part of who we’ve always been.  We can choose to tell that story to our kids and to their kids after them.  But there is another story as well.

It’s the story of a non-Jewish hotel manager who was close to tears when she saw what had happened.  Not because she was concerned for her job – she did nothing wrong – but out of genuine concern for us.  It’s the story of a dozen law enforcement officials who showed up on the scene, each more respectful and caring than the next.  It’s about the amazement, awe, and deep seated respect they showed when the Torah was unrolled in front of them and they saw the painstaking labor of love with which each letter was formed.  It’s about the member of the Jackson Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Unit who, covered from head to toe in his white sterile suit and meticulously documenting the evidence, told me about the year he spent in Israel living in the King David Hotel on assignment by the US military and the lifelong admiration he’s had for the Jewish State ever since.

And it’s the story of Nancy and Bert Bennett, residents of Jackson whom I have never met, but who wrote me the following letter this week:

Dear Sirs, Madame,
My husband and I were truly sorry to hear of the terrible incidents that happened to your holy books in Jackson.  We have lived here for over twenty years and have never heard of such a thing happening.  As I watched the television report, I did not think you got the sincere apology you deserve.
This world seems to be filled with such hatred.
But there are many Christians that recognize that the Torah is God’s sacred word and the Jewish people are God’s chosen people.  My husband Bert and I sincerely ask for your forgiveness for the city of Jackson and again, though we hold no official power, we apologize for what happened here.
Nancy & Bert Bennett

The choice is ours.  Which story do we want to tell?

1 comment:

Nathan Kirshstein said...

Rabbi, both stories need to be told but with the emphasis on the empathy people had with us.

Nathan Kirshstein