Saturday, October 27, 2018

"All Jews Must Die"

Six years ago I interviewed for a job at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The work was to be based out of Mozambique, where I was planning on living and doing research, but the idea was to spend a year or two there, and thereafter return to Pitt.

They flew me out for an initial interview; I gave a talk about my work at the time on dengue. A few weeks later, they invited me to come back to meet some of the people who would need to sign off on the budget lines required to offer me a job. Miriam came along, and we spent a few days driving around the area, taking a careful look at the housing market in the event that we ever did move. I fell in love with the city in short order. We looked at the Jewish stronghold of Mount Lebanon, the inner-city neighborhood of Shadyside, and some new downtown lofts along the river. Driving around the city, which I was seeing with new, adult eyes since I had last visited in high school, I knew that I was more than willing to move there after a stint in Mozambique. And I knew that I wanted to live in Squirrel Hill.

Had I accepted that job, there is a strong likelihood that Tree of Life would have become my synagogue. Here in Boston, I attend a synagogue with what sounds like a similar moral aesthetic. Our synagogue has a social action committee involved with aiding refugees, and sounds nearly identical to HIAS, the Jewish organization whose purpose is to "protect the most vulnerable refugees, helping them build new lives and reuniting them with their families in safety and freedom." HIAS is based in Maryland, but its local Pittsburgh partner is Tree of Life, and this shared sense of mission may have been one of the critical factors spurring on the shooter to act. It's well within the plausible to think that I could have been there today, maybe cradling one of my children as I watched their lives seep out of them, or them doing the same for me.

That, however, is probably not the most important point to be made in this hour as we collectively process yet another mass murder, and one associated with peaceful worship. I could not have been one of the members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, though I mourn those lost lives no less and feel the horror of that violation with equal force; I definitely wouldn't have been at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, but that provides ice cold comfort, and as I scrolled through the Pittsburgh updates at the hospital, my mind turned once again to  Pastor Frank Pomeroy, who was attending a class in Oklahoma the day of the shooting. His daughter was there and she was killed, as was the visiting pastor Bryan Holcombe and seven of his family members, including a pregnant daughter in law. I assume this quirk of fate must weigh heavily on Pastor Pomeroy.

On Facebook, an acquaintance posts a dirge about the Pittsburgh shooting. At the end, he writes, "please, no political comments"--an entirely reasonable request. It was followed by, "This has nothing to do with right or left, red or blue," which is almost certainly the funniest line I've read all day, although I can't quite say that it brought levity.

The past few days I have been listening to The Death of Expertise, a book by Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College. Though I have occasionally serious quibbles with some of his analysis about the loss of deference to experts, it is a compelling read. At one point he bemoans the loss of reasoned exchange, giving a nod to Godwin's law--the adage that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."

Today, as I drove home listening to Nichols's careful reasoning, I wondered what he might think of the discussions today, in which my people are sitting around thinking about how we Jews--and as the African American victims of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church demonstrate, other minority groups as well--could be the victim of an act of unspeakable violence specifically directed at them. And, moreover, that these acts would be happening just when the President of the United States repeatedly encourages such people with the praise of brutality, the hymns of resentment, and the encomia to aggression.

Just curious, but when Jews and African Americans are being mowed down by people SS-style as they scream "All Jews Must Die," and that should happen when the worst reprobate to hold the highest office in the land spews forth excrement on a daily basis directed at this-or-that minority group, is invoking the name of Hitler and Naziism still worthy of a condescending tut?