Guns and Jews

Guns and Jews

Last week, at the American Jewish Press Association’s annual conference, I talked to Beth Kissileff, who grew up in Teaneck. I wrote about her, because the book she co-edited about the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh is about to be reissued in paper. Her husband, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, headed one of the three congregations that met in building on that day. He survived, as did two of his congregants; three others did not.

How extraordinary to meet someone who has been through such a horrific experience, I thought.

Later, Beth told me that someone from Colleyville, Texas, and someone from Poway, California, were there as well; there was an attempted massacre in Colleyville that the rabbi there averted, and a woman was shot and killed in a shul in Poway.

Yes, the Jewish world is small — but is it that small?

On Monday, the Fourth of July, the once- (and I hope future-) glorious Fourth, when the hideous massacre there happened, I called my good friend Rich, who lives in West Rogers Park, the overwhelmingly Jewish neighborhood in Chicago. He’d been planning on going to his aunt’s annual barbecue in Highland Park. He told me that his cousins on that side of the all were at the parade, and that his ex-uncle (families are complicated) had been hit in the shoulder, and was being treated in the hospital. (He’s out now.) Later, he told me that his niece on the other side of the family was marching in the parade, accompanying a local politician.

This seems at first as if it’s illustrating the point that all Jews are connected; that if you have Jews in specifically Jewish places — a synagogue, certainly, but also a town where lots of Jews live (one of the details that haunts me is that as the murderer shot the hideous gun that he should not have had, a klezmer band was playing) — and if you’re Jewishly connected yourself, you’re bound to know someone.

But it’s more than that. it’s not that there are so many Jews, or that so many Jews are so connected.

It’s that there are so many guns, and so many shootings. So much murder. So much death.

Who knows what will come out about possible antisemitic motives in this case? It’s possible that the shooter was motivated by hatred of Jews, but it’s also possible — and his photographs make this seem likely — that he was driven by some other internal evil. Some lack of touch with reality that could allow him to go out in public looking like that.

And then there is the question of the children at the parade. Most of them were not hurt physically, but it is hard to imagine that many have not been traumatized. Some were separated from their parents; the trauma on both sides of those episodes must be massive.

It also has made me think about something I saw at the Atlanta airport this week. (Aside from the canceled flights and confused would-be passengers, which is a real issue but not for now.)

There were long snaking lines, and every few rows there were signs that said, in big letters, “No guns beyond this point.” Which would be fine — except for the problem of exactly what would you do with gun, were you to realize at exactly that point that you can’t have it — but the sign kept recurring. So THIS is the last place you can bring a gun. No, it’s here. No no, it’s here. Here! It’s HERE! You get the point. It’s like making ultimatums to your kid that you have no interest in carrying though, and both you and your kid know it.

But then, closer to the TSA booths, there were some holographic signs. A red shape would appear, seemingly out of nowhere, not on a screen, just whirling in space. It would turn and turn and increasingly resolve into a gun, until it was clear that it was a pistol. (I say this confidently, as if I could differentiate a pistol from another kind of gun. I think it’s a pistol, but that’s as far as I can go.)

I stood there watching those signs whirl, and wondered what I would say to a child about it. A child who was going home, flying to LaGuardia and therefore living somewhere locally, and so a child who probably is not used to guns.

It’s hard to imagine who those signs are meant to convince. These holograms were as unconvincing as the two-dimensional signs. If you’ve come this far with a gun, you’re unlikely to be convinced but some weird sign floating in midair. But if you’re a kid, suddenly you have to wonder if you’re safe.

Who benefits from that?

But there are good things too, and it’s important to remember them. This week, I’ve been taking long walks down the bike path on the Hudson River, which is as wide, dark, and impenetrable as ever. It’s immensely soothing, because it simply does not care.

And the goats are back! Last year, they were introduced to Riverside Park with great fanfare; this year, I saw something about them in the Washington Post. And then, there they were. Four of them, eating their way through brambles and weeds with impassive aplomb.

I can’t manage either of those things, impassivity or aplomb. But I can watch the goats, and still I can marvel.          -JP

read more: