What is going on here?
No, really, what is this?
Madmen with guns. Madder men with machetes. Blood everywhere. Pain and gore and panic and disbelief, melting into deep deep grief.
This is not what we are used to. This is not what we have come to expect here, in the United States of America. It is a cold, harsh new world.
Of course, when we break things down they look slightly different. The failed murderer in Monsey apparently suffers from schizophrenia; he dabbled in anti-Semitism, news reports hint, but it was his mental illness — and his inability to get it treated, because it is notoriously hard for people who are not wealthy to get mental illness treated, and even the wealthy find it hard to get mental illness treated successfully — that drove him to violence.
Jews have faced violence in Europe, hideous, heartrending violence, but here in America, we’ve generally been able to disappear. There may be a great deal of debate in academic circles over whether we’re really white, but certainly we look white. We can blend in.
In America, African-Americans have faced horrific violence, as the the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, with its remembrance of the thousands of people lynched in this country, makes painfully clear.
We are awash in guns. The Second Amendment, written about militias, allows everyone this side of gibbering insanity to have a firearm.
And the language of insult, tantrum, and a-grammatical rage that rains down on us from as high up as the highest office in this land gives license to every single one of us to unleash our monstrous inner toddlers, uncivilized and full of egomaniac desires and demands.
How will anything good, or even anything at all decent, come of this?
After the nightmare rampage in Monsey, the governor of New York State and its senators spoke up, immediately and strongly. After the horrific massacre in Jersey City, the governor of New Jersey, the state’s U.S. senators, and the city’s mayor spoke up, immediately and strongly. This is not Europe of the 1930s, with its creeping anti-Semitism, leading inexorably to the Holocaust. This is something entirely different.
Martin Luther King Day is coming, in less than three weeks. On that day, we remember the great African-American orator, activist, and hero who died fighting for freedom for his people. The American people, that is, because we cannot be free until all of us are free.
This Sunday, there will be a pre-MLK Day meeting in Teaneck, when Jews and African-Americans will talk about their shared and separate histories. The week after, there will be another such meeting — we’ll write about it next week — when a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim will meet at the Jewish Center of Teaneck to talk about “pursuing communal harmony in a polarized age.” Groups like the Sisterhood of Salaam-Shalom meet to overcome stereotypes. There is great truth in the idea that it is much easier to hate in the abstract. It’s harder to demonize someone you’ve met; it’s easier to imagine fangs than to see them, because really, who has fangs?
It’s easy to give in to hopelessness, but that doesn’t help. And even now, there are very real reasons for hope.