Last Thursday marked the start of the Jewish month of Elul, the month during which Jews traditionally search their souls in preparation for the New Year. It's a time for introspection and self-examination, for resolving differences with others, for attempting to correct our errors, for asking forgiveness of those we may have harmed, and for granting forgiveness to those who ask sincerely.
As always, my list of failings and shortcomings is long, and I have much work to do. But this year, I've got an additional problem. I'm angry at my fellow Jews. And as long as I'm angry, how can I ask G-d, or anyone else, to forgive me? Of course you don't know that I'm angry or why I'm angry. So I suppose I need to tell you, which is why I'm writing this. After that, it's up to you.
Much of this is harsh. I fully expect to be condemned for writing it, and "speaking ill" of my fellow Jews. But I believe that I have an obligation to preserve Judaism and Jewish life, and that obligation supercedes any obligation to be "polite". Please remember that I love you; it's your behavior and attitudes that I don't understand. And if this angers or hurts you, please let me know and I will do what I can to make things right. This is, G-d willing, a time for healing.
Monday, children and parents returned to the North Valley Jewish Community Center outside Los Angeles. Less than a week before, an avowed "white supremacist" attacked the center and shot five people. The kids wore brightly colored hair for "Crazy Hair Day", and were accompanied by clowns and magicians. The media portrayed it as a happy ending to a tragic event.
But I'm still grieving. I keep thinking of my two bright, sweet, loving nieces who could just as easily have been victims. Like the children in LA, they attend a Jewish day camp in a state where citizens are barred from possessing any means of self-defense; their parents are ardent supporters of gun control.
I think of little Amanda Gottlieb, age 4, who, the reports say, "stood helplessly in the center's lobby just 20 feet from the gunman-- as he fired 70 shots and wounded a 68-year-old receptionist, a 16-year-old counselor and three boys". The poor kid, and her friends, must be terrified. Yet, her parents dropped her off (or is that abandoned her?) with assurances that "mommy would stay with her for a while". Meanwhile, the JCC staff assures her that the attacker, Buford O. Furrow Jr., is a "monster".
What is wrong with these people?! Buford Furrow, who has admitted to the attack, was very clear that he hoped to incite all-out genocide against Jews. He said he wanted his act "to be a wake-up call to America to kill Jews", and the media did their best to help him communicate this agenda to others. While Furrow's actions were monstrous, he's hardly the type of monster that hides under kids' beds and in their closets. He's quite real, and there are a lot of other very real people like him. Parents can protect their kids from bogeymen with fairy dust and nightlights, but that won't work on murderous criminals. To ignore this unpleasant fact is suicidal.
So is Amanda safe at the JCC? Are my nieces safe at their day camp? No! There are thousands of people out there who would like to kill Jews. Even if there are no immediate copy-cat crimes, sooner or later another hate-filled person will attack. And what will mommy do if the JCC is attacked again? Scream? Cry? Pray? Die while shielding Amanda with her own body, thus leaving her motherless? Is dying along with our kids the best solution we can devise to combat murderous attacks?
Yes, clowns and balloons may make kids feel safe. But we have the responsibility to make sure our children really are safe. Children are perceptive enough to sense when the adults around them are lying or fearful, so make-believe won't work. What are you doing to keep our kids safe? What are you willing to do?
If Amanda were my child, she'd hear the following: "Honey, there are some very bad people in the world. Some of these people hate people like us who are Jewish. They don't know what a special, wonderful, little girl you are. They don't understand that G-d loves you, and that we love you. We never thought that such a bad person would try to hurt you and your friends. But he did, and so grownups have to do some things to help you to stay safe.
"We love you, and we're not ever going to let anyone hurt you. So to make sure you're safe, Mommy's going to stay at school with you today. So is Lisa's mommy. You know that we keep guns at home so no bad guys can come in the house and hurt us. Well, Mommy's going to take that gun to school, and Lisa's mommy will take her gun to school. In fact, there will be mommies and daddies with guns at the school every day. And we're going to teach the teachers about guns too, so they can protect you against bad guys. And when the bad guys find out, they'll be too scared to come to your school.
Someday, when you're a big girl, we'll teach you how to use a gun too. But for now, you need to remember that you can't touch a gun unless Mommy or Daddy says it's okay. Do you remember your gun safety rules?..."
But instead of doing anything to make kids safe, I see you tripping all over each other to advocate more gun control and more hate crimes legislation. You're like lemmings rushing to jump over a cliff. You're making the world more dangerous for children, and probably contributing to future genocides. Refusing to protect your children is endangering them. Teaching them that their role as Jews is to be helpless victims is child abuse. No matter how much you love them, if you're not willing or able to keep them safe, you're not fulfilling your responsibilities as parents.
You will, no doubt, respectfully disagree, and hurry off to your next gun control meeting. But this is not a "difference of opinion". Pacifism is not "an alternative strategy". Cowardice is not a value-neutral choice. Refusing to defend yourself and your children is, although I hate to say it, a sin.
As Jews, we are commanded to preserve life. The Talmud teaches that "If a man rises up to kill you, kill him first". We are commanded to possess the means to defend ourselves, our families, our communities, and all innocent persons. The Torah teaches us that "The Children of Israel were armed when they went up from the land of Egypt", because the difference between slaves and free people is that free people can defend themselves. The stories of Hanukkah and Purim also teach us that we need to be armed and prepared to defend ourselves and our religion. Nothing in Jewish law advocates, or even condones, pacifism.
For those of you who insist that "that was then and this is now", we also have modern day experience. Hitler and Stalin first disarmed the Jews and then murdered them. Israeli teachers and parents are armed; their children, schools and synagogues are safe. American Jews support victim disarmament. In the past few months, synagogues have been fire-bombed, and Jews have been shot in both Chicago and Los Angeles.
Yet most Jews, along with every major Jewish organization, are crying for "more gun control" and for "hate crimes" legislation, as the solution to the problem. (Does anyone think hate crimes legislation would have deterred Furrow?) The message you are sending to your fellow Jews, and your children, is clear: "If a vicious criminal wants to kill you, lie down and die, so that we can convict him of a "hate crime". If you dare to defend yourself, we'll arrest and punish you." Is this a sane policy for our survival? Is it the legacy we wish to leave for future generations? Will a hate crime conviction bring back the dead?
Worse, the very concept of "hate crimes" is offensive because it is philosophically indistinguishable from that of the haters. Both the haters and the hate crimes advocates believe that "some people are better (or worse) than others." Hate groups believe that some people are inferior or "less than human" and should be exterminated. Hate crimes advocates believe that some people are "better" than others, deserve special protection, and that anyone who harms them should receive particularly harsh punishment. Both are entirely wrong. All people have equal rights, and all people are entitled to equal protection under the law. Someone who kills a man for his wallet is not "better" than someone who kills a man because of his religion or race.
Buford O. Furrow's attack on Jews was not a random crime of violence. He specifically chose to target Jews and hoped that others would follow his example. There are a lot of people out there who want to kill us - and they believe they have good reasons for doing so. So I'm going to wander into some very dangerous territory here and try to examine why Furrow, and so many other people in the United States, hate Jews and are willing to engage in violence against us. While much of the hatred is madness, there is some method to it as well.
I don't agree with, or condone, Furrow's beliefs or actions, which are completely inexcusable. While it may be stupid and self-destructive to refuse to defend yourself, it's not a capital crime and it doesn't justify murder. Likewise, no matter how offensive someone else's beliefs are, violence is not an acceptable solution. Violence is justified only in self-defense or the defense of another.
While so-called "white supremacist" ideology is offensive at best, Americans have the right to believe whatever they wish. If people want to believe that Jews are the "spawn of Satan", or that Blacks are "mud people", they have the right to do so, as long as they don't resort to violence. Likewise, if people want to believe that they are a "chosen people" or that Jesus was not the Son of G-d, they have the right to do so. Both Jews and white supremacists hold non-mainstream beliefs. So theoretically, it is in each group's best interest to support the right to hold minority beliefs.
Violently attacking people is inexcusable and intolerable. But so is trying to criminalize and silence groups with which you don't agree. Yet you advocate outlawing so-called "white supremacist", "neo-Nazi", "Christian Identity" and other "hate groups". You pressure the government to infiltrate and spy on such groups. You advocate internet censorship of web sites with which you don't agree. You lobby for "hate crimes" legislation. Whatever you think of "white supremacists", you're overlooking a very basic truth. If you try to eliminate them, they will try to eliminate you - and they don't share your professed abhorrence of violence.
And do you truly abhor violence, or are you simply unwilling, or afraid, to engage in it yourself? Demanding that others shoot your enemies for you is still advocating violence. Virtually every synagogue and Jewish center has demanded, and gotten, increased police protection. If you hate violence, and hate guns, why do you want so many armed police around? Do you trust them more than you trust your fellow Jews? If so, why?
Too many Jews have also firmly allied themselves with the ultra-liberal left. It's bad enough that Jews have historically supported both socialism and Communism. Now, you work to eliminate free speech and enforce political correctness and multiculturalism. You mistake forced collectivism for charity. You wholeheartedly endorse victim disarmament. You support ever-expanding government powers in the false belief that big government can, or will, protect you from all enemies. These are not religious beliefs; they are political beliefs, and you confuse them at your peril.
Absolutely nothing in Jewish law justifies these positions. While Jewish law mandates justice, it does not advocate special treatment. It forbids pacifism and mandates self-defense. It opposes collectivism, and defends private property rights. It opposes "multiculturalism" in favor of a discrete, and separate, Jewish people with their own religion and customs.
Many people consider this left-liberal political agenda to be un-American, and for the most part I agree. Yet when anyone dares to honestly question or object to your political agenda, as opposed to your religious beliefs, you accuse him of being an "anti-Semite" or "another Hitler". And if other Jews, no matter what their religious beliefs, disagree with your agenda, as I do, you treat them like heretics. Shrieking "Jew-killer" is not "political debate", nor is it conducive to good relationships with others. Sooner or later, your victims (yes, Jews can victimize others!) will recognize your emotional blackmail for what it is, and it will not endear you to them.
You have the right to believe anything you wish. You have the right to do anything you wish, so long as you don't attack others. Most Americans will defend that right. But you need to understand that your beliefs, and especially your actions, have consequences. Believe it or not, some people hate you for what you do, not because you're Jewish.
People have hated Jews and sought to kill us throughout Jewish history-- nearly 6000 years. It's not a new phenomenon. Yet it seems we are unable to learn from experience.
Jews have never been "safe" for very long anywhere. Every so-called "safe haven" eventually turned on us and persecuted us: Egypt, Spain, Greece and Germany come to mind. Why do you believe you'll always be safe here? No government, including that of the United States, has ever been willing to protect or defend us. Why are you so eager to surrender all means of self-defense? The police have absolutely no obligation to protect you or your children, and in case you forgot, they stood outside while children in Colorado were murdered. No one cares about Jewish children more than their parents. But if we're not willing to defend ourselves, no one else will do it for us.
I grieve for the victims of hatred in Chicago and Los Angeles, especially the children who are too young even to understand why they were so brutally attacked. I fear that more children will be killed or injured because of the inability or unwillingness of their parents to provide them with the reality of safety instead of nice-sounding words and smiling clowns. I fear that their suffering will have been in vain, and that we will never learn.
I fear that misguided parents will teach their children that self-defense is wrong and guns are evils to be hated and feared. Children need to know that self-defense is a natural human right, and an obligation under Jewish law. They need to learn that guns, like all tools, can be used for good or evil, must always be treated with respect and care, and are the best form of self-defense available. They need to know that their parents will do everything possible to keep them safe.
I fear that yet another generation of Jews will conclude that their only legitimate role in this world is the role of professional victim.
Above all, I fear that by enthusiastically supporting universal victim disarmament, Jews, and especially Jewish leaders, will succeed in encouraging yet another Holocaust.
And so, at this time of the year especially, I beg you to re-examine your values and beliefs as critically as you possibly can. Are they consistent with Jewish law, or are they merely "politically correct"? Do they promote a strong, independent, vibrant Jewish community, do they promote fear and weakness, do they promote assimilation? How carefully have you studied the issues involved? Have you listened with an open mind and an open heart to both sides, or unthinkingly accepted that "all Jews believe X"? Most important, pray to G-d for guidance and wisdom.
May you, and all Jews, and all people of good will, be inscribed for a New Year of life, health, peace and happiness.
© 1999 Sarah Thompson, M.D.
Dr. Thompson was a guest on Live Fire 09/27/99.