The Global Village in a World of Terror

Last Wednesday, as Americans were easing into the familiar and welcome patterns of a laid-back Thanksgiving weekend, Mumbai was convulsing in a horrific spasm of violence all too familiar to us here in New York. Images of senseless carnage were all over the print and electronic media, a much beloved rabbi and his wife were among the intentional casualties, and it was woefully easy to relapse into that sense of vulnerability yet again…

It didn’t take long for the impact of Mumbai’s experience to be felt here in New York City. Reports of a possible attack on our trains and subways led to a higher profile of security personnel. Police were everywhere, their dogs were sniffing bags, and we were, as we ritually are, reassured by our mayor that there was “no specific plan” that had been identified. Oh, I’m so grateful. I feel much better with a random and vague threat than with a clear one.

And then, to finish off the trifecta on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, my daughter Talya called from Israel, where she’s participating in the yearlong NATIV program of United Synagogue. She calls us regularly to talk, and just to hear our voices. We treasure that. But this time she called to tell us that all the kids in her program were in “lockdown mode,” not allowed to leave their rooms except for classes, not allowed to take buses… Other similar youth programs that receive the same daily security briefings from the Israeli Army were also in lockdown. Obviously, they were also picking up signals that they didn’t like, and thankfully, they weren’t taking any chances.

The immediate horror of what happened in Mumbai has given way to sad and sober reflection, and mourning. Here in New York, we continue to ride the trains and take the buses, whether there are more police or fewer on any given day, or a heightened threat. And in Israel, my daughter and her friends are once again taking buses to classes at Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, eating in their favorite restaurants and hanging out in the center of town.

In short, life and the way we live it tend to revert to a kind of homeostatic state of being in which we all pretend that if we just act normal, and keep to our routines, the world in which we live will cooperate with us and spare us from random chaos.

Not true, of course, and we all know it. But whether one is in Mumbai, Jerusalem, or New York, there really is no other way to deal with the kind of episodic horror we have come to know and expect. Yes, we feel each other’s pain; we were all citizens of Mumbai last week. But when the immediacy of the horror begins to fade, and its inevitable ripple effects begin to recede around the world, we go back to our lives, and hope…

What else is there to do?

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.