A US White off-duty police officer had killed yet another US Black man. Yesterday, she was convicted of murder and received 10 years in jail.
The specific legal case is not the issue here. I want to focus on what the brother of the victim said in court, after sentencing. He so well made the case against revenge and hatred. He spoke from the heart. Look at the above short clip. Have tissues handy.
He doesn’t diminish the gravity of her killing his brother. The clip begins with him referring to “how much you have taken from us.” He speaks directly looking at the convicted officer. But he then calmly and humbly forgives her. He advises that when she’s truly sorry, to go to G^d Who then will forgive her too to take away her guilt. Forgives, everyone needs who might have done something in the past that one shouldn’t, he adds.
He says twice, I love you as a person and I want nothing bad to happen to you. Then he asks permission from the judge to hug her. He gives her a warm generous hug and they both cry — together with many others.
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The news, so often, has brought us pictures of interments with militants chanting hatred, their fists pounding the heavens, pledging revenge.
But we’ve also witnessed in amazement, (too many) funerals of terror victims in Israel. How close ones were speaking at the fresh graves. Time and again, we’ve heard survivors refrain from blaming or uttering any negative word that would tarnish the holy moment. Family members speaking of the virtues of their lost loved ones. Of their own gratefulness for having had these special people in their lives. Of their unshakable hope for the future. Of their great love of G^d. And a call on others to seek to do random acts of goodness, to contribute to Good in honor of the murdered. I’m sure, Jews don’t hold any copyright on this.
G^d helps. In my experience, when a loss is so great, we have such a need to cling to Goodness to ‘stay sane’ (so to speak).
The Value of a Life With Little Hatred
My Jewish parents were concentration camp survivors (Westerbork). Their four parents (and most of their families, friends, and communities) were murdered at Auschwitz. Still, they raised their children, all born after the War, with, You have no permission to hate the Germans.
They would continue, We may be unable to forget or forgive. (Intimidating anti-Semitism continued in the Netherlands after WW II, so how could they heal?) But you weren’t there and you have no right.
Now, as Second Generation kids, we grew up never knowing our grandparents or their communities. We received very hurt parents. (But they were very upright, refusing to cooperate with anything immoral.) Though they had had a carefree youth (when your emotional strength is founded), their children grew up with so much insecurity, in the shadow of this great evil. Frankly, many children of survivors seem in worse shape than their parents. But in any case, our parents told us that we’re not allowed to hate the Nazis or to speak badly of Germans in general.
My mother came from a religious home but her childhood faith had shattered already a bit before the War. The Holocaust did not help. My father grew up secular but had a great moral great-great-grandfather, Chief Rabbi Salomon Rosenbach, whom he didn’t know about. I found that out only years after he had passed away. Their rejection of us hating Germans was not popular in any Dutch non-Nazi environment. They did not live by a formally kosher lifestyle. But the dismissal surely stemmed from their roots and their Socialist simple hope for a better world.
Generally, this upbringing has worked for me. I just can’t waste my precious time being absorbed by hatred. I certainly don’t envy people who stained their own lives by taking someone else’s. But I’d rather mourn losses and not let them linger by fretting about culprits. (Believing that all comes from G^d helps but non-believers can do it too.)
Moving on can also mean, teaching and warning others of danger and helping to stop and prevent evil — but not, spreading hatred.
I have met many Holocaust survivors, who, if not so hurt that they ended in complete apathy, displayed almost superhuman ethics. Often starting with a deep respect for the truth, the weak, and all people.
I very much have to thank my parents for guiding me away from hate. I don’t think that they really condemned my ability to be angry. Rather, they gave me permission to refrain from it. That was a great gift.
Actually, it may take a lot of emotional work to never get angry and always mourn instead. Even when one is not an ‘angry person.’ It’s so much more comfortable and quick, to ‘get’ angry than to feel our losses, (cry,) and smile. We can easily rationalize it with, it’s only occasionally, a little, a moment, understandable, everyone does it — while denying how damaging that can be even once, to our health and relationships.
As below we will see, Judaism allows for a tiny bit of revenge but the Rabbis advise us to do away with all our anger. Not just not showing anger — training ourselves not to get angry. They equate anger with a denial of G^d. Anger even gives away that one could believe that G^d is not totally in charge or doesn’t know what He’s doing. That in His stead, we would be a better god, Heaven forbid. So, Judaism compares any anger with idol worship, which is about the worst sin in Judaism.
(This should not be confused with non-violent righteous indignation which, in an emergency, might save a life acutely in danger.)
Don’t Demand Turning the Other Cheek
Yet, my Jerusalem rabbi points out that the classical Christian teaching of a general obligation to turn the other cheek has backfired for millennia. (US Rabbi Boteach even makes the point that Christians should learn and appreciate hating. I don’t go that far.) While many Christians have been inspired by their religion to do good, unmistakably, hatred for Jews lived comfortably and easily within most Christian Communities from generation to generation. It exterminated whole Jewish communities, completely emptied countries of all Jews, and in the end, laid the groundwork for the Holocaust. And even when that became known, that didn’t immediately lead to a general change in attitude vis-à-vis the Jews. Only when the State of Israel was founded and began to flourish, it became clear enough for most that G^d had not abandoned the Jews as the apple of His Eye and how wrong religious hatred for Jews had been. (You don’t have to be religious to see that.)
My rabbi explains that G^d knows that humans are only human. Our Maker doesn’t ask what is too much for most people. The Jewish way, the Torah, shows its exquisiteness by allowing for a certain amount of retribution. Only a very limited amount of revenge but it doesn’t deny that human emotion. (E.g., we wish that G^d will revenge Jews killed by anti-Semites — implying, G^d and not us. Once, a close kin of someone just killed could kill a fleeing killer but only until s/he reached a City of Refuge. After that, a court had to rule.) G^d didn’t create us Angels and He knows it. How embarrassingly mistaken were Christian theologians who regarded their ways and Bible as superior to those backward Jews.
So, we may set an example, but not let lose a general demand to be saints. We may try to inspire, but not coerce absolute non-violence.
(Non-violence should include protecting oneself against assault. NVC teacher Marshall Rosenberg, pointed out that the benevolent giraffe does have small horns. RC teacher Harvey Jackins, preferred reducing an attacker to tears but he was not against vulnerable people avoiding or fleeing dangerous places and arming or hiding. One doesn’t do any good endangering oneself and others through staying naive or pretending safety in the face of real danger. And he added that if martyrdom was ever any good, it has been done very well in the past and we should now aim to build a life rather than to knowingly sacrifice it.)
Tears do it, not Love or a Lack of Hatred
And now, after the above ethical and religious considerations, let us look at the emotional side of this all. From the above, one could wrongly infer that with enough love/not hating, we’d be all non-violent. I think that’s one step too quick.
Notice that the brother of the murdered Black USer cries, sobs. And so does the convicted murderer in his embrace. And the onlooking judge …
If you speak of not hating but loving the villain, and you’re not crying or trembling, you’re probably faking it, in my humble opinion. The healing of the normal emotion of wanting to take revenge needs a way out. Tears and shivers may heal it. If you’re, like me, into redeeming humanity from hatred, watch for tears. They show if we’re on the right path.
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I tell you the following story from memory. I was at a national Reevaluation Counseling workshop in Israel, led by Harvey Jackins. At an early lecture, Harvey was interrupted by a new gentleman at the back. He began to explain at length what was going on and should happen. Harvey gave him some slack and then asked him to come up.
You’re Owning Class?, Harvey asked, never missing a beat when it came to Class. He continued, I know because you speak here for everyone while I don’t think that you were appointed some spokesperson. The man defended, But our Class does a lot of good. Harvey retorted, Don’t lie to me. I know how you kill workers. The man said, I admit that we had one person killed who worked for us. To my shock, Harvey immediately replied, I forgive you. But I want you to commit …, laying out how to walk away forever from any notion of being superior to others.
Now, Harvey was a proud son of the Working Class. He forgave this man in a beat but I never had heard him speak about forgiving those who hurt us. He let people cry about their losses without preaching at them. He knew that tears, rage, shivers and laughs, words spoken to listening ears, and other emotional releases melt away any negativity left from trauma. But when he handled this perpetrator, he showed complete non-judgmental-ness.
But he never advocated not getting angry. Anger is good if it brings you to tears. The tears will take down the hurt and the anger. Harvey made healing people the cornerstone of his life, not, teaching them ‘to behave.’
(In a late stage of recovering from assault, it might be helpful to forgive your attacker to clean out the corners of your treasure chest of hurt. Just as a suggestion. But not before spelling out your hurt, forgiving yourself, and confronting the attacker — to your therapist, in a letter, possibly not sent.)
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So, when people get to not hating, not being revengeful, that’s great. But don’t lay that expectation on everyone or acutely. As the brother of the victim above explained, he was not speaking for others, what others should do. Meanwhile, he set a monumental example.
Harvey was also fond of saying, “Always do right. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”