Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

And now, Parkland

Parents wait for news after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder Thursday morning. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)


Not here.


As if we residents of Broward County, Florida, could somehow put blood on our doors, and keep the Angel of Death at bay.

For, surely, the Angel would have known better than to stride into Parkland, Florida — that place in our county that had the reputation of being the “safest city in Florida.”

This time, the Angel of Death came in the guise of Nikolas Cruz, the alleged shooter. He had an assault rifle. Who, other than the police and the military, needs such a weapon? Nikolas Cruz was violent. He was troubled. His school knew it. His friends knew it. They saw it.

Nikolas Cruz was a member of the Republic of Florida, which is a white supremacist group. The members of the Republic of Florida seek to create a white ethno-state in Florida.

We often speak of six degrees of separation.

That is not how it is in Broward County.

When it came to the unspeakable events of Wednesday, there were not six degrees of separation. There were more like two degrees of separation.

Everyone in Broward County knows someone who knows someone who was affected.

Especially in the Jewish community. Several of the casualties and the fatalities were Jewish kids, and a Jewish teacher.

To quote my colleague, Cantor Israel Rosen: “Kol Florida aveilim. Every Floridian is a mourner.”

The Hasidic master, Reb Nachman of Bratslav, tells the story of a king, whose wise men tell him that they have learned that the harvest is tainted. Whoever eats of the harvest will go insane.

They ask him: “What should we do?”

The king replies, “We must eat of the harvest, because to not eat means starvation.

“But, you and I, my teachers and advisors – we will put marks on our foreheads. We will see the marks on our foreheads – and we will know that we are insane.”

There are so many school shootings in the U.S. that some call it the new normal.

We have eaten from the tainted harvest.

As a culture, we are insane.

I have three questions for those politicians who have been reticent and reluctant and cowardly – and who have categorically refused to apply a tourniquet to the bleeding.

The first question: What does it mean to be pro-life?

An unproven hunch: most politicians who are pro-gun are also pro-life.

Those pro-life, pro-gun politicians care about fetal tissue. They care about a pregnancy at four months.

There is virtue in that.

You care about the tissue of potential life at four months in the womb.

Might we ask you to care about the tissue of a human being outside the womb — at four years, or at fourteen years old, or at forty years.

The second question: What does it mean to care about the Bible?

For, here again: many politicians who are pro-gun pride themselves on their connection to the Bible.

I want to invite those pro-Bible/pro-gun politicians to study Bible with me.

Let’s learn the story of Cain and Abel. Abel’s bloods – yes, bloods, in the plural – cry to God from the ground.

Bloods – because when Cain killed Abel, he not only killed Abel, but all his descendants.

Let’s learn the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Learn the story of a society that surrendered its soul to bloodshed and cruelty – and suffered horrific circumstances.

The third question: What do you mean when you say: “Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have suffered this terrible loss”?

“Thoughts and prayers” is Hallmark, hollow, and helpless.

Let’s just cluck our tongues. Let’s talk about how it is too soon to talk about changes in our laws.

Until the next inevitable shooting — when they will offer their thoughts and prayers.

I invite you, my readers:

  • To be part of the process that will change this country’s culture for the better.
  • To be part of the process of dismantling our nation’s love affair with guns.
  • To challenge the literal, fundamentalist reading of the Second Amendment – by people who still think that we need militias, “well organized” or not.

Finally, on the subject of “thoughts and prayers”:

In the Reform prayer book, Mishkan T’filah, two prayers illustrate the kind of prayer that is sometimes necessary.

  • “Pray as if everything depended on God; act as if everything depended on you.” Piety is fine, but action is necessary.
  • “Disturb us, Adonai, ruffle us from our complacency; Make us dissatisfied. Dissatisfied with the peace of ignorance, the quietude which arises from a shunning of the horror, the defeat, the bitterness and the poverty, physical and spiritual, of humans.” 

The late writer and social activist, Elie Wiesel, tells this story.

A righteous man came to the wicked Sodom and pleaded with the people to change their ways. No one listened.

Finally, he sat in the middle of the city, and simply screamed.

Someone asked him, “Do you think that will change anyone?”

“No,” said the righteous man.

“But at least, they will not change me.”

I once loved to tell this story.

No longer.

It is not enough to sit in the middle of the town square and scream. It is not enough to hope that the world will not change us.

The time for impotent screaming is long past.

It is now time to change our culture, and to heal our nation’s wounds.

For, this week, the war came home to us in Broward County, Florida.

In the words of the Psalmist: “How long? How long?”



About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.