Yet once again the nation is shuddering and reeling after the massacre of 19 elementary school children, second, third and fourth graders, and two of their teachers, on May 24, at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. This occurs on the heels of the massacre of ten Black Americans, on May 17, doing their grocery shopping in Buffalo NY. This school shooting is the 27th this year and the 212th mass shooting in the United States since the beginning of 2022.
There are no words to convey how incomprehensible this is, how shaming it feels that mass murder has become a predictable part of American life. Our hearts go out to the parents that are experiencing the unimaginable grief of losing a child to violence; to the brothers and sisters of those who were killed whose lives are forever changed; to the teachers and fellow students of the Robb Elementary school who will carry the trauma of the day for the rest of their lives. Our prayers are with the thousands more who are re-experiencing the loss of loved ones to gun violence. How scary to think that our own children and grandchildren are not safe when we send them to school, that we are not safe in our synagogues and churches and mosques, that we are not safe on the streets, supermarkets, parks, and theaters of our communities.
A letter written by Albert Einstein in April 1945 captures the mood of our country today. Einstein wrote this to friends who had unexpectedly lost a child: “When the unexpected course of everyday life is interrupted, we realize that we are like shipwrecked people trying to keep their balance on a miserable plank in the open sea, having forgotten where they came from and not knowing whither they are drifting”.
This seems to me to be an apt description of our nation at this time. We seem to have forgotten where we came from. We are adrift at sea, not knowing where we are going. What do we say to ourselves and to each other, about this horrific tragedy and about the direction of our country? How does Judaism sustain us at times like this?
A fundamental Jewish belief is the belief in human freedom. “We are what we choose to be,” writes Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. “Society is what we choose to make it. The future is open. There is nothing inevitable in the affairs of humankind……..To be a Jew is to be an agent of hope in a world serially threatened by despair.”
To be a Jew is to believe that things can get better and that we have the power to help make it better. To be a Jew is a protest against the blind acceptance of fate and an affirmation of the ability of the human will to mold the world into how it should be, how it could be. To be a Jew is to turn our sense of helplessness into action, our anger into deed, to allow our fears to give way to hope.
Rabbi Marc D. Rudolph