How can we learn from the massacre?

More security? Sure. More love for our fellow Jews? Maybe. “Knowing our place,” as some in a hostile world would want of us? I strongly doubt it!

This kind of thing – maybe not so focused, or this bad – happens somewhere around the world more often than many of us want to admit. We speak out, even cry out in outrage. But it abates. We lock arms closer and bond together better, but soon we return to normal. Once the bodies are buried and the wounds are cauterized, things go back to the way they were. We remain Jews: strangers in galut – even in our homeland.

Will this time be different? Somehow, oddly, it almost seems so. This time, we don’t seem so alone, and things seem somehow less foreboding. Why is that? While, as always, there has been an outpouring of support from Jews – even those far from the strike zone – this time it is not only Jews who are showing their support. From the Pope on down in Catholicism, and from other Christian communities, we hear that support. From places in the Muslim world too we receive friendship and consolation – indeed, some Muslim organizations raised more than $100,000 to help victims and their families. As the world becomes smaller, the strength in numbers has seemed to become greater. Others seem to be sharing our suffering.

Maybe I’m a dreamer. Maybe this is simply a moment in time and what’s happened before will happen so easily once again, with society, once again abandoning us – returning to football, or the stock market or a new recipe for soup. Shouldn’t we want to ensure that today’s kumbaya moment becomes tomorrow’s as well?

If the Jewish people have a shortcoming when it comes to empathy, it is that although we always empathize with our fellow Jews in times of their suffering, sometimes we do not do so enough with the stranger’s. Maybe we need to learn from how we are being treated this time around by the “stranger,” and reciprocate for him when he is the victim of such horrible acts. Acts which, sadly, have already or will invariably come to him one day soon.

We are told in the Bible to “Love Your Neighbor As Yourself”. Yes, the simple meaning: love him in the same way we would want him to love us. But a more profound meaning: to love him “kamocha” – precisely because “he is like you.” The suffering our neighbor, even the stranger, will encounter is just like the suffering that we ourselves have now endured so many times. Yes, love him, because he is like us!

The more we try to help our neighbor – that is, the stranger – when he suffers, the more likely he will be there to help us when we need him next. Sad as this massacre has been for us, perhaps the reaction to it by those strangers – those just like us – can become a teachable moment for all the world.

About the Author
Joel Cohen is a white-collar criminal defense lawyer at Stroock in New York and previously a prosecutor. He speaks and writes on law, ethics and policy (NY Law Journal, The Hill and Law & Crime). He teaches a course on "How Judges Decide" at Fordham Law School. He has published “Truth Be Veiled,” “Blindfolds Off: Judges on How They Decide” and works of Biblical fiction including “Moses: A Memoir.” The opinions expressed in this article are Mr. Cohen's and not necessarily those of the Stroock firm or its lawyers. Dale J. Degenshein assists in preparing the articles on this blog.
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