What We Can Do About Orlando-Part Two

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
July 8, 2016 / 2 Tammuz, 5776

NOTICE: It’s been raining, the ground is wet and we’ve brought our Shabbat in the Park inside for a Picnic in the Hall.
Here’s a link with the information. Hope to see you tonight!

This morning as I readied to send this message out, I woke to discover a horrific attack on Dallas police officers that left five officers dead and seven injured. This comes on the heels of a few weeks filled with tremendous loss of life in middle eastern terrorist attacks, many by ISIS or its affiliates. We pray for those affected, even as we pledge to take positive actions to improve our world. Lo Alecha Ham’l’kha ligmor. We don’t need to complete the work, but we are required to do our part. 

I’d like to dedicate this week’s musings to the memories of Elie Weisel and photographer Dave Heath. Each in their own way dedicated their lives to countering hatred and isolation and spent decades on the task.

Good Teams, Bad Teams and What We Can Do About Orlando (Part Two)

Question: What do you get when a bunch of Jews go to church to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fast known as “Eid al-Fitr?” Answer: Increased understanding and mutual ties of camaraderie. More on this below.

There are over 300 million guns in American. According to a Washington Post article, 2009 was the first year when there were more guns than people in the United States. One of the more startling figures I have encountered is that every time there is an increased effort to strengthen gun control measures, the number of guns sold increases dramatically–the law of unintended consequences in action.

Much can be made of these statistics, and they are used both by those who are tired of the killings and argue for enhanced gun control, and by those who claim that the prevalence of more guns has actually resulted in fewer gun homicides.

I draw a slightly different conclusion from all this. First, regardless of whether this country has the will to pass legislation to better control weapons (a big question, mind you), unwinding the raw numbers of guns already in the hands of Americans would take countless decades.

Most pressing problems have no quick fixes and we are easily distracted. Cancer, global climate change, decreasing fertility rates, structural poverty, terrorism, incarceration rates and societal polarization all present us with vastly complex issues. Contained within that complexity are a host of competing values that sometimes stymie consensus or action.

America is enamored of instant solutions, from diet pills to the next generation of smart phones. All of this exacerbates our national attention deficit disorder. Enduring change, as I see it, occurs by constant incremental improvements. It requires us as a society to keep our eyes on the target. Nonetheless, as an optimist, the way I read history shows that we as a species have indeed made remarkable strides. Sometimes, we get so focused on what is currently wrong that we forget to take pride in our accomplishments.

Second, if real solutions to pressing problems take generations as I have argued, then it is neither naive nor unproductive to take on the largest issues of our age. “Attacking” the gun problem or addressing the underlying issue both will take decades. If we are honest, we can see that as a nation, we have been wrestling with this issue for anywhere from 25 years to over a century. Given that, the most rational, hopeful and compassionate response seems to me to think and act on the big picture.

Three weeks back, I wrote:

For me, the deepest, most significant and enduring lesson of our latest massacre is that we must reduce human hatred. All of the other lenses by which people view these events seem like bandaids to me, addressing symptoms and not root causes. When we address symptoms, the disease will simply mutate and appear again.

As I wrote then and have attempted to communicate repeatedly, alienation and isolation are our current age’s plagues. Unaddressed, these feelings can fester, producing hatred, polarization and a host of other symptoms. The solution as I see it is neither grand nor unachievable. We must constantly work to build bridges and strengthen our communication skills so that we can see others and feel heard. That work occurs in small ways and large.

Here’s some of the work we are doing in our community:

  • Our commitment to teaching dialogue and encounter skills continues. Our professional team has just begun to have ongoing scheduled meetings to develop our own skills and to incorporate those into our diverse program offerings. Over time, we should be able to discern the impact we are making.
  • One concrete example I can share is how we will be bringing this to our 12th graders in Tichon this fall. Eric Stone and I will be leading a class practicum on spiritual life skills so that our college bound teens will be prepared to encounter diverse opinions in the university atmosphere today. So much of college life is about argumentation, which has its place, but which rarely develops understanding or connection with those who think differently. In a period of growing anti-semitism on campuses, this will be valuable for many reasons.
  • On Sunday, July 3rd, a number of our congregants and professional staff attended a Ramadan break the fast with our friends at Bilal Mosque. It was hosted at the United Methodist Church. Continued and ongoing encounters of this sort build trust, mutuality and a sense of responsibility for one another. What sometimes makes people forget the power of these meetings, or imagine that they are just “feel good” moments, is that the change it inculcates is slow, and needs to be repeated in an ongoing, consistent manner. But we also need to shower regularly, and that fact shouldn’t prevent us from bathing in the first place. As I’ve argued earlier, “grander measures” are neither faster, nor more efficacious–and tend to address symptoms rather than root causes.

Finally, I’d like to extend an invitation to you to attend an interfaith gathering in response to the recent massacre in Orlando. Entitled “Healing Our Hearts,” the program will be held by our friends at Bilal Mosque.

Healing Our Hearts

Sunday, July 17th from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm.

4115 SW 160th Beaverton, OR, 97007

I hope to see some of you there.

Shabbat shalom,

Rav D


Listen to recordings from our past few services here