Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tragedy and the American People

Last Shabbos Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head by a deranged gunman in front of a supermarket in her home district of Tucson, Arizona. Thank God she has somehow miraculously survived. Unfortunately the same is not true of others who were in the line of fire. Six innocent people lost their lives that day. One of them was Jewish. One of them a nine year old child. 14 others were wounded.

The descriptions in the media of how some of the others survived because of the heroism of good and decent Americans is a testament to the human spirit. One of the victims used his own body to shield his wife from the gunman’s bullets. His wife survived with injuries and is expected to fully recover. Her husband died. There were other heroes there. Including one fellow who - because of his medical training as a CNA - is credited with keeping Representative Giffords alive while waiting for the EMTs.

Watching the reactions of father of nine year old Christina Green who died of her wounds was truly a lesson in grace under the most extreme of conditions. It made me tear.

There is no way to put a positive spin on what happened. This is a tragedy for the family and friends of the victims. It is also a tragedy for all Americans when good people are so senselessly murdered in this great country of ours. To look for a silver lining is - I think - to minimize the tragedy.

So I say the following in full knowledge that it will do little to sooth the pain of the families of those victims. On the other hand based on the character shown by those same family members, I don’t think they would disagree with what I am about to say.

Last evening President Barack Obama made perhaps the best speech of his Presidency. He spoke of his prayers for Congresswoman Giffords recovery, paid tribute to the heroes of that day, and expressed sympathy for the victims and their families. He did it with a sensitivity that is rare in today’s political climate. It was one of his finest moments.

People may quibble about his brief reference to toning down the extreme political rhetoric as irrelevant to what happened – and I would agree with them in principle.

While I agree that political rhetoric should be toned down - this tragic event had nothing to do with that. Those who exploit it for political purposes are wrong. The gunman’s actions were not motivated by anything but a psychotic craving for attention – not any political rhetoric.

But it doesn’t matter that the President made a brief reference to it. The rest of his speech was so moving that it overwhelmed this one drawback. The tone of his message that evening was perfect. And it was accepted that way by the thousands of attendees at that memorial who rightfully gave the President several standing ovations.

This is yet another example of the true greatness of the American people. The vast majority of the crowd were white Americans. Most of them probably voted against him - voting instead for their own Senator John McCain. But it didn’t matter. They did not see a Democrat. They did not see a black man. They saw a President with whom they completely identified at that moment – almost bonding with him. This – despite what I am sure is complete disagreement with many of his policies.

Another thing that has been somewhat inspiring from a Jewish perspective is the outpouring of love for and concern by virtually every member of congress and everyone who knew her – or even just knew of her. That she strongly identified as Jewish was not mentioned at all by anyone in any of the many media reports I read or heard - except for the Jewish media.

As the daughter of a Christian Scientist mother and Jewish father she was not Halachicly Jewish. She was in fact raised in both religious traditions. But after an inspiring trip to Israel she decided that she was a Jew in her soul and from then on she saw herself proudly as only a Jew.

It doesn’t matter that she was not Halachicly Jewish. For the world she was. Everyone knew that since she proudly advertised it all the time. And yet that was not in even the slightest way an issue for anyone. Her religion is irrelevant. The love pouring out of the heart of every member of congress for Gabby Giffords is palpable. The many tears are real. She is apparently a beloved figure there. The rest of the country is now learning what a special person she is.

No one cares what her religion is. The tragedy is the same for all. The pain is the same for all. Black - White; Democrat – Republican; Left - Right; Jew and non Jew... it doesn’t matter. Gabby is an American that was shot by an assassin’s bullet. A beloved figure was gunned down and is now clinging to life. We all feel the pain as one people. This is America. We saw it on 9/11 and we see it again here. It once again reminds me of why I love this country and its people so much.