Where’s The Outrage?

It’s been a long and tiring month. The new year did not start off well for us — not as Jews, not as human beings. The news out of Paris was staggering. It brought to the surface issues of hatred, racism, freedom of speech, freedom to protect and express religion, anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia and even, for us, some strange anti-women weirdness. When a few high-ranking females, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, were airbrushed out of a photo of the Paris protest in an Israeli ultra-Orthodox newspaper, satirists mocked the publication by creating a photo that airbrushed out all the male politicians. Needless to say, there weren’t many people left in the photo.

So where is the outrage? When people are tired, they don’t have the energy to be outraged. We are suffering moral fatigue. We don’t think there are any solutions to these vast, universal problems. We shrug. We wring our hands. In a word, we have given up.

Outrage in the dictionary is defined as “an extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation.” Outrage is a fierce emotion. It is the shrill cry of injustice. Where has our outrage gone?

I thought of this on a recent trip to Israel. My sister came with me in a taxi to pay respects to our beloved grandparents buried in Har Ha-Menuhot, a cemetery on the outskirts of Jerusalem. It was overcast and raining. We paid for an hour of the driver’s time so we would not be rushed. He rushed. He then stopped short in front of an Egged bus, prompting me to say in Hebrew, “I want to visit Har Ha-Menuhot. I don’t want to live there.”

Apparently, I couldn’t live there if I wanted to. Local word is that they are running out of room. The cemetery was empty of living souls on a Friday afternoon, but a few days earlier its winding roads were overcrowded. The four French hostages who were murdered in Paris’ kosher grocery were buried there. People came by the thousands to show unity and anger. For a place called Mount of Eternal Rest, it should, given recent events, perhaps be renamed Mounting Anger. It was here that four of the five killed in the Har Nof synagogue massacre were also buried.

With 33 minutes left to our taxi hour, our frugal Jewish DNA wondered what we should do with the leftover time. It would be a shame to waste it. “Want to go to see Rabbi Rubin’s shul?” my sister asked. This was the unofficial name of the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue, where the massacre took place. My sister had introduced Aryeh Kopinsky, one of the four rabbis who were killed there, to his wife. Everyone was still hurting. I shook my head no. I didn’t want to bring in Shabbat in Jerusalem with mental visions of blood across a sanctuary. I didn’t want to see the artificial flowers left there as if to say, we will not forget you. I was tired.

The next day, I was angry at myself. I should have paid my respects, not tried to make it all invisible. In news terms, what happened in Har Nof already seemed like ancient history next to the anti-Semitism sweeping across Europe. Tragically, the massacre had been replaced in the media by fresh Jewish blood elsewhere. But in Har Nof, the anguish remains. Because new terror never eclipses old terror. It just adds to the hammering litany of injustice that we have somehow come to regard as unavoidable. I was wrong not to go to that shul and say a prayer for the dead and their families. It doesn’t matter if it’s painful. It was more painful for those who lived through it.

A Talmudic passage states that one shouldn’t pray in a ruin. Commentaries suggest that such places are dangerous. Ruffians may hide there. Anxiety may distract one from the appropriate mindfulness required. Here’s another possible interpretation: Prayer in a ruin somehow suggests that we can find God in a place no longer in use. Our relationship to the divine is not meant to be a relic, an object from a spiritual archeological dig. It must be living and vibrant, even when it’s painful. The minyan in Rabbi Rubin’s shul today is strong because no one can take away living holiness. Maybe God lives in our outrage. Maybe God lives in us when we give voice to those who cannot speak.

Perhaps as American Jews and American citizens we have become too complacent, too tired to protest terrorism and anti-Semitism. We have forgotten how to protest. Would we have been able to muster the throngs in Paris on our National Mall? I don’t know anymore. You don’t protest what you have come to accept.

We need more outrage because there is no more room in the cemetery on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Erica Brown’s column appears the first week of the month. Subscribe to her weekly Internet essays at ericabrown.com.

About the Author
Dr. Erica Brown is an associate professor at George Washington University and the director of its Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership. She is the author or eleven books; her forthcoming book is entitled Jonah: The Reluctant Prophet (Koren/OU, 2017). She previously served as scholar-in-residence at both The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston. Erica was a Jerusalem Fellow, is a faculty member of the Wexner Foundation, an Avi Chai Fellow and is the recipient of the 2009 Covenant Award for her work in education and the 2012 Bernie Reisman Award (Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program, Brandeis University). You can subscribe to her blog, Weekly Jewish Wisdom at erica@ericabrown.com.
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