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I see you, I need you, I am you

02/05/19 12:20:47

May2

 

 

When I look at the lovely photo of Lori Gilbert Kaye at the Kotel I see someone who could have been a friend, a sister, a congregant. When I hear about her life she reminds me of the women of the chesed in our community: generous, loving and looking out for others.

 

Sixty year old Lori Gilbert Kaye, died in the shooting on Shabbat, last day of Pesach at the Shule in Poway, close to San Diego. She threw herself in front of Rabbi Goldstein losing her life but probably saving his. Marie Craig who described herself as Kaye’s best friend said ‘I just cleaned out her car… (there were) gift cards, greeting cards and as basket of gifts, because she’s always wanting to do good’. Rabbi Goldstein, who described her as a wonderful human being, noted that ‘Lori took the bullet for all of us’. In a wider sense the bullet that Lori took was indeed one that was for all of us – firstly as Jews and then as human beings.

 

The bullet that killed her, like the bullets and bombs that have taken so many innocent lives over the past few months, from Christchurch to Colombo, are aimed at all of us. They are designed to kill our compassion, undermine our empathy and unnerve our sense of security and unity. They are aimed at creating distrust, xenophobia and fear. The goal is to cause a deep divide among people of faith and goodwill. What linked these three most recent attacks is that they were directed at places of worship and in the name of God; a fanatical Islamic perversion of Allah and a White Christian right-wing distortion of the Lord. Shakespeare said even the devil can quote Scripture and Blaise Pascal lamented ‘Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction’.

 

  1. God must weep at the zealots who call out His name, how He must grieve at what’s being done in His name, how God must regret ‘that he had made man on the Earth’, how his ‘heart must be filled with inconsolable pain’ (Gen. 6:6).

At times like this, when the world seems to overflow with ‘mere anarchy’ and the ‘blood-dimmed tides’ threaten to overwhelm our humanity, we need to pause, reflect deeply and gather our resources. We need to resist the temptation to blame, to react in anger against ‘these people’ and we need to resist the impulse to retreat into ourselves out of fear.

 

Lori was killed on the last day of Pesach, the festival that reminds us of the power of hatred but also the potency of love. In a sense Pesach is also about the abuse of religion. Pharaoh probably used the cloak of his religion to cover his exploitation of power. Egypt was a religious civilisation with countless priests and temples. Pharaoh used his slaves to build his religious monuments, to help pave his way to the afterlife. The Egyptian ‘Book of the Dead’ calls on individuals to have a light, graceful and gracious heart but Pharaoh hardened his heart; his arteries were blocked by his cruel and unscrupulous calculations. Just like the hearts of those who use religion today to support their unfathomable acts of animosity.

 

How can you walk up to children and detonate them and yourself in the name of God if you haven’t inured your heart to feeling and your brain to thinking morally? These perpetrators may feel their evil is altruistic, ‘for a wider good’, they may convince themselves that this is the path of righteousness, but it is the distorted and toxic ideology of hatred. It is all too human – and that’s why it’s mistaken to call them inhuman or animals – it’s the dark side of being human. It’s about surrendering to your dark demons and stultifying the better angels of your being.

 

Judaism has always recognised that the heart of humans carry this terrifying and terrible capacity - ‘for the heart of man is bad from his youth’ (Gen. 8:21). It has never underestimated the awful violence and anomie of the human condition. Jewish experience and history bears testimony to this. Yet for all this, we believe in humanity and a God who loves and believes in us. We start with ourselves and end with others. We believe that the imprint of God on our souls is stronger than the disfigurement of evil. We have faith in our strength to connect to other human beings.

 

On the final days of Pesach we read about the crossing of the sea and the jubilant song of the Israelites. The Midrash has it that the angels wished to join into the song but were admonished by God who reminded them that his creatures, the Egyptians, cruel as they were, had died and that angels should not sing at the death of his creations…. God cares for all humanity. So we must find the strength of mind and boldness of heart to join together with people of goodwill and faith be they Christians, Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus; to counter the hatred, to unlock the love; to educate the minds and hearts of the next generation; to be as powerful in our convictions as the extremists are in there’s. We need to be passionate in our moderation!

 

To slightly adapt the words of the American poet, Richard Blanco:

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident – where the cure for hatred caused by our despair is the good morning of a bus driver who remembers our name, the tattooed man who gives up his seat on the subway, where every door is held open with a smile, when we look into each other’s eyes the way we behold the moon…with a promise of one people, one breath, declaring to one another: I see you. I need you. I am you.’

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Ralph

Sat, 21 September 2019 21 Elul 5779