Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

A year after Parkland, we are all numb

Jorge Zapata, Jr., center, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, holds candles with his mother Lavinia Zapata, and father Jorge Zapata, Sr., during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at the school, in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

It was all supposed to have changed, wasn’t it?

A year ago, in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, we promised ourselves that things would change.

The students rallied. They went to Tallahassee. They stood up. They protested, with mixed and sobering results. We promised them that we would be their allies, that we could change the world together.

But, consider all of the shootings that have happened since Parkland.

Consider how the blood reached the gates of the American Jewish community itself. The war came home. In the wake of the horror at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, we mostly (and appropriately) talked about antisemitism in America.

But still, the guns.

Even since Pittsburgh, more shootings.

Because, if the American mindset and our gunolatry did not change after the shootings of little children in Sandy Hook, why would we have thought that the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School would have changed anything?

Nothing has really changed.

Actually, no — that’s not entirely true.

Something has changed within me. At a certain point, I simply stopped mentioning the names of the victims of shootings during my prayers in synagogue.

It was not that I had stopped caring.

It was simply that I had become numb.

When it comes to shootings in America, we have all become numb. We barely notice them anymore. We have come to accept them as part of everyday life..

That is the greatest danger. To accept as normal that which is hideously abnormal. That is how societies unravel.

But, numbness is a luxury that we cannot afford. It is to be lulled morally to sleep. It is to check out, to zone out. To simply stop being aware.

The alternative? To scream.

I thought about this during the recent State of the Union address. I thought about this in the midst of conversations about late term abortions.

This is what I have noticed, and what many have noticed.

There is an almost direct correlation between those politicians who are opposed to more vigorous gun control laws, and those who are opposed to abortion.

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

There is virtue in that.

We must ask, therefore, of those politicians:

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 utter hypocrisy is enough to make any reasonable person scream.

On this first yahrzeit of Parkland, I will weep — and not only because the victims were my neighbors in Broward County, Florida.

I will pray for the healing of those burdened with physical and emotional scars.

I will pray in gratitude for the first responders, police officers, medical professionals and mental health practitioners.

I will pray in solidarity with the rabbis of Parkland and Coral Springs, the communities most intimately affected by the horror.

I will pray for the families of those who died.

And, yes — I will talk myself out of being numb.

The late writer, Elie Wiesel, used to tell this story.

A righteous man came to 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.’”

The last word cannot be a scream. On this yahrzeit, it is appropriate for the last word to be a prayer.

My friend and colleague, Rabbi Joe Black, the senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Denver, delivered this prayer in the wake of the shooting in Parkland. It was the opening prayer for the Colorado State House.

Our God and God of all people,
God of the rich and God of the poor.
God of the teacher and God of the student.
God of the families who wait in horror.
God of the dispatcher who hears screams of terror from under bloodied desks.
God of the first responder who bravely creeps through ravaged hallways.
God of the doctor who treats the wounded.
God of the rabbi, pastor, imam or priest who seeks words of comfort but comes up empty.
God of the young boy who sees his classmates die in front of him.
God of the weeping, raging, inconsolable mother who screams at the sight of her child’s lifeless body .
God of the shattered communities torn apart by senseless violence.
God of the legislators paralyzed by fear, partisanship, money and undue influence.
God of the Right.
God of the Left.
God who hears our prayers.
God who does not answer…
Our prayers have not stopped the bullets.
Our prayers have changed nothing.
We are guilty, O God.
We are guilty of inaction.
We are guilty of complacency.
We are guilty of allowing ourselves to be paralyzed by politics.
The blood of our children cries out from the ground.
The blood of police officers cut down in the line of duty flows through our streets.
The monsters we fear live among us.
May those in this room who have the power to make change find the courage to seek a pathway to sanity and hope.
May we hold ourselves and our leaders accountable.
Only then will our prayers be worthy of an answer.

One more prayer — this time, a prayer for healing.

God, instill within us the capacity for outrage.

God, lift us up from the paralysis of acceptance of the world as it is.

God, heal us from our numbness.

 

 

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.