Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tisha B’av Thoughts & the Aurora Massacre

TWO WEEKS AGO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE suffered a terrible tragedy at the hands of a twisted young man. Twelve innocent men, women, and children were murdered in cold blood and over 50 others were injured while watching the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, CO.

Parents lost their children, spouses were widowed, and friends were lost forever. No words can truly do justice to express my feelings of pain, shock, and anger. I had to wait two weeks to write about this story in order to fully digest the severity of it all. When I saw The Dark Knight Rises in the theater, my stomach cringed every time there were explosions and gun shots on the big screen.

As a Jew, I am no stranger to bloodshed. Around the world, my brothers and sisters have been gunned down by terrorists for being Jewish. But my anguish is felt equally when evil is perpetrated against any human being. I still feel the sting of this attack acutely. However, I am concerned that much of the American public doesn’t have the Jewish sensibility of long term memory capacity. It is likely that they have already begun to forget what transpired just a few short weeks ago. To be sure, having a long memory carries with it a lot of baggage; it isn't all that rosy. The fear of the past often makes it impossible to press forward and move on with life. Nevertheless, remember we must.

Do you think anyone outside of the immediate family will remember and honor the victims past their one year anniversary? Will any laws be changed or amended as a result of this crime? In this age of social media, human beings are not conditioned to reflect on any story once it has stopped trending on Twitter. As a result, we are doing a great disservice to the innocent victims, their families, and society by not using tragic events like these as moments for reflection, growth, and positive action.

Jewish tradition has been instrumental in conditioning people to cope with tragedy, decry evil, and ensure that something like this doesn't happen again. Thousands of years have passed since the evil nation of Amalek tried to destroy our people, yet we still come to the synagogue and pledge “Zachor…Lo Tishkach,” that we mustn’t forget. We commemorate the Holocaust on Yom Hashoah, where we declare never again. Indeed, many have the custom to recite the "six rememberences" daily. Also on an individual level, we observe the Yahrzeit of a loved one by lighting a candle in their memory. I don't know the best way to honor the victims of the Aurora shooting, but I do know that keeping the flame of their lives in our thoughts and prayers will go a long way.

This idea became even clearer to me when I sang the final and most moving kina, or elegy, of the Tisha B’av service last week. “Eli Tzion ViAreh,” directs Jews all around the world to weep over the destruction of the temple that was destroyed hundreds of years ago. In attempting to evoke from the reader feelings of pain, grief, and loss the author uses two distinct images: a mother suffering from labor pains and a young woman who tragically loses her husband. While the pains of childbirth are physically debilitating, the loss of a loved one is emotionally devastating. Why then, would the author conjure up two images of pain that couldn't be any more different?

I believe that the author wished to emphasize and remind us that the obligation to remember a significant event must not only have a short term effect like the pains of bearing a child, it must make a lasting impact on our lives in the same way that the pain losing a loved one lasts forever.

It is my fervent hope that the American people will adopt the collective memory of this Jewish sensibility and never forget any of the horrors that are meted out against them. Let us bring honor to the victims and their families by taking positive steps, large or small, to ensure this is not repeated. In doing so, we will become a stronger and more united nation.

Zachor, Al Tishkach.

Rabbi Joshua Hess is a co-founder of He is an Orthodox rabbi in Linden, NJ and a life-long sports fan. Follow him on Twitter at @RabbiHess.