Aurora is the third largest city in Colorado, adjacent and to the east of Denver. It features business and industry, a thriving medical community, and many square miles of suburban housing. Located in the Rocky Mountain West, it is Middle America. Shalom Cares, the nationally recognized senior continuum of care facility where I served as chaplain for nearly 20, is centered in Aurora, but most of the Jewish community of Aurora attends synagogues in Denver. One lives in Aurora but the action takes place elsewhere, or so it was until a few days ago when a gunman made Aurora infamous by wreaking carnage upon innocents at a midnight showing at a local multiplex cinema. Once again blameless people, with no connection to the perpetrator (as far as one knows) have been caught up in violence. People in Aurora (and worldwide) are shaken; we are horrified and shocked.
Personally, I do not know anyone who was affected directly. Yet friends mentioned a woman who knew someone who was either injured or murdered. I have been touched by the number of emails and phone calls from across the world asking us if my family are safe.
The mood here is sadness, shock, and a lack of understanding. How could this happen? Why would it happen? It is seen as a horrific but a stand-alone event. It awakens echoes of Columbine High School that stands some 20 miles away, and other such senseless gun-related tragedies. It is like a bruise that you thought had healed, but is clearly still tender. Now it is common conversation, but in a few days that will pass.
The carnage took place in the early hours of Friday morning. Response was felt at synagogues throughout the area. Many rabbis in their prayers on Shabbat included the bereaved and the wounded physically and psychically. Between the memory of Columbine, the murderous bombings in Bulgaria this same week, and Tisha B’Av coming soon, there is a heightened awareness that tragedy can happen anywhere, anytime — and no one and no community is immune.
As best I know no Jews were hurt, and certainly Jews as such were not targeted for attack. There are many prominent and public Jewish venues in the wider area that if someone wanted to hurt Jews, those places would be an easy choice to make.
Is this particular case an example of sinat hinam/groundless hatred? Who knows, it is much too early to tell about this specific dreadfulness. The police, understandably, are keeping the lid on information. That the horror in Aurora broadly falls into that category, and in that sense it is connected to other tragic events we all know about — yes, it is a form of sinat hinam.
There is some terrible irony in the fact that if this were to happen in Afghanistan or Iraq, or Indonesia — or sadly in Israel — people would be less shocked.
- Will this bring about greater security measures in public or private places? I doubt it.
- Will this bring about a greater sympathy for gun-control and gun (i.e. weapon) registration. I doubt it.
- Will this bring about a greater sympathy or understanding for what Israel faces on a daily basis? Again, I doubt it. I write this because people will not make the links; they will not connect the dots. Even if some rabbis, ministers, news media, or politicians were to make that nexus, I do not think that the effects would be long-lasting.
In a few days the London Olympics will crowd out the headlines from Aurora. Locally, however, we will continue to mourn and grieve for the many families whose lives will never be the same again.