By Larry Gordon
Everyone involved in the sorrowful and sordid abuse situations that have recently burst into the media are—according to the law—innocent until proven otherwise. And some are even innocent beyond the determination of any judicial process to the contrary.
This is not about specific community leaders, therapists, or rabbis. Regardless of the accuracy of these widely reported events, only one thing is conclusively certain—that it is tragic for the victims whose lives were wrecked as well as for the families of those who acted perversely and with wanton disregard of others.
The question posed here is why the actions of just a few individuals are used—and effectively so—to cast aspersions on entire communities and institutions, indeed on our whole way of life.
Last week the entire concept and image of certain Orthodox Jewish ways of life in different and diverse communities was subjected to examination and analysis and brought into question. Many of us realize that in these situations just because a few people in positions of authority may have overstepped their bounds or have acted with cruel disregard and in contravention to the law does not mean that the institutions they worked for or the communities they hail from are or were supportive of their awfully damaging actions.
But there it was in a host of Anglo-Jewish newspapers and websites and on the pages of publications like the Times, the Post, and the News. The thrust of the reporting was not that these were the possible actions of a few men who are also identified with certain communities, but rather that those communities and even their leaders may in some way have been complicit in their dastardly acts.
The news writers could not resist, not on TV, on the radio, or in print. There were the religious-looking men, some rabbis of note, being accused of indulging in very unrabbinic types of activities. The press seemed determined to paint or at least suggest that there was something bad or devious about entire communities because to some extent they—we—tolerated or didn’t respond with appropriate dispatch and effectiveness when we may have been aware of the existence of these repugnant activities.
Now, Torah is strong and tough, but it is also sensitive and vulnerable to being the frequent target of all kinds of attacks. An overwhelming number of our fellow Jews today question its veracity and relevance. Only a small minority of our people around the globe recognize its Divine holiness and its involvement in everything we do and even think today. So when that small, and yes, special group are involved in activities that fly in the face of everything Torah stands for, that creates a serious problem for us all.
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I cannot adequately describe how disturbing the senseless murders in Newtown, Connecticut, last week are. The mind and all our emotional faculties just cannot grasp the depth and extent of the tragedy, the horrible suffering of those small innocent children and the adults who sought to protect them, and the ripple effect that the experience will have on families going forward.
Over the last few days I have been feeling that if we could not somehow distract or distance ourselves from the reality of these events, it would indeed be nearly impossible to function. The fact that the president visited, that there are respectful funerals and memorials taking place—with each passing day somehow the stark realness of this bitter truth gets synthesized into our psyches and absorbed into the very fiber of our bones.
But then it all jumps uncontrollably back to the beginning facts—20 first-grade children, all either six or seven years old. And their teachers, administrators, and guardians, all dedicated to simply teach, mentor, and protect them—six of them mercilessly and suddenly ripped away from their families.
These are times we search for deeper faith, comparable to the fashion in which our cell phones kick into the roaming mode when we travel, looking to latch on to some kind of power, some kind of signal, a sign of life somewhere.
• • •
Over last Shabbos I was pondering the biblical details presented to us about the plump and well-fed cows in the week’s Torah portion forced, in Pharaoh’s dream, to stand side by side with the meek, sickly, skinny cows. The brilliance of Yosef’s interpretation of these dreams, which won Pharaoh over to such an extent, was the realization that these were not two disconnected, unrelated events. Yosef saw that the two dreams were related; they were really one event.
So, you see, it must be that perhaps in more instances than we realize, events that occur simultaneously or parallel to one another have a relationship to each other.
The point—and it disturbs me greatly—is that there just might be some kind of connection between last week’s main media events. Last week, in the pages of our secular and not-so-secular press, the image of Torah was dragged through the journalistic mud. The media seemed to be asking the question that the angels once posed to our Creator under very trying circumstances: “Is this Torah and is this its reward?”
What occurred in Newtown last Friday morning is and will always be an unspeakable tragedy. It was like a bomb that was packed with additional explosives within it so as to cause even more damage than that created by the original explosion. The pain, the hurt, the loss, and the damage continues to travel in all too numerous directions.
There are no similarities between the two events, but on a very distant, superficial level, amongst the results from Newtown was to push the chillul Hashem that was dominating many media outlets out of the news. The image of Torah and religiosity was under attack, being disparaged and denigrated. In the aftermath of Newtown, suddenly you could not find coverage of these irresponsible actions anywhere in the news. There is suddenly, and I have to say unfortunately, no space and no time.
Those repugnant events have not gone away, and we can rest assured they are being legally and properly dealt with. But, for now anyway, the collateral damage that the image of the Torah way of life was sustaining in our news outlets all day, every day, has ceased.
No, this is not a suggestion by any stretch of the imagination, G‑d forbid, that there was any benefit whatsoever from the murder of the innocents. That would be an absurd notion, and if that idea exists in anyone’s mind, push it out. What happened here was a manifestation of absolute and inexplicable evil. How and why this exists or why it happened is beyond human comprehension.
For the families in Connecticut and beyond, now is a time for mourning and remembering. I’m certain that it feels like the pain will never go away, and to an extent it probably will not. It is also a time to invoke our faith in G‑d, which does not necessarily afford us the ability to understand what took place, but rather facilitates the ability to accept that His ways are often beyond the scope of our understanding. That is certainly the case here on many levels. v
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