Devastation of Division

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I miss the Fall of 2001. Not the horrific, unimaginable devastation and loss of life that was inflicted on us when 19 cowardly terrorists hijacked airplanes and flew them into the Twin Towers the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. But the unprecedented unity that permeated American society shortly thereafter.

We all drove around with American flags affixed to our cars, proud to be citizens of this country. There was a real, palpable desire to hug random strangers, the ones waiting at the red light in the car next to us, standing in front of us in line at Starbucks, and even our next door neighbor with whom we previously had some disagreements. It didn’t matter if they were Black or White, Asian or Hispanic, Republican or Democrat. We were all in this together, united as one. The unity and energy was real. It was an all-encompassing feeling of oneness.

I hoped that one silver lining of this deadly Pandemic that currently feels like “old news,” would be that we as human beings could achieve similar levels of unity. It seems from over 6000+ miles away, to some extent Israel has been successful at this, as Israelis stand besides Palestinians to combat the same deadly foe– the microscopic virus we all know as Covid-19. And admittedly, reading these stories warmed my heart.

I hoped that we could achieve similar levels of cooperation and unity here in America as a result of the Pandemic. Perhaps the fact that we are all fighting the same enemy could reduce the division and distrust that pollutes this country. Maybe the virus could make which party with whom an individual identifies less important. Maybe it could bring us all together, a la 2001.

Those hopes were quickly squashed as it appeared that the Republicans advocated for no lock down, and Democrats advocated for a total lockdown, and this mess quickly became political in nature.

Alas, my dream of this virus unifying us as a society was quickly destroyed.

But in recent days, the division of our country has reached levels I could not have even imagined.

After a blissful forty-eight hour holiday of Shavuos, celebrating the anniversary of the Jewish people having received the Torah, I was awoken from my serene slumber by Twitter reporting of the riots across the country. As I read up on the current events, I was overcome with a feeling of dread. A feeling that is more troubling than even the feelings I had when the Pandemic first shut down our society in a very sudden, dramatic, and shocking fashion. Somehow, this seems to hurt more. In many ways, this feels more troublesome and painful.

In the “best” case scenario that is the most favorable understanding of the events that unfolded regarding George Floyd, Derek Chauvin, police officer from Minneapolis, callously ignored a dying black man’s desperate words, “I can’t breathe.” This “favorable” version of events, as reported by ABC News in LA, suggests that an autopsy showed “the combined effects of being restrained, potential intoxicants in Floyd’s system and his underlying health issues, including heart disease, likely contributed to his death. It revealed nothing to support strangulation as the cause of death.” So the best case scenario to defend Chauvin was that he did not strangle George Floyd to death by pressing his knee firmly against his neck. But as those millions of us who saw the footage, who wish we could unsee the graphic footage can report, at the very least, he sadistically ignored a Black man in tremendous physical distress helplessly begging him to stop, inasmuch as he was unable to breathe.

The “worst” case scenario for Chauvin is that he murdered George Floyd through cutting off his oxygen supply by his knee, firmly pressed against his neck, unrelenting and unwilling to back off until the damage was done.

Upon seeing this, I hoped in my heart that there would be some semblance of justice for George Floyd and his bereaved family, and Chauvin would be convicted of murder, and not blessed to see the light of day for a very long time. To my dimwitted simplistic worldview, murder is wrong. When you murder, you forfeit your right to live freely in society. Thus, Chauvin belongs in jail. This would be justice for George Floyd, and his grieving family. G-d wiling there would be real awakening in our society to the daily struggles the Black community experience and the prejudice that is a regular part of their lives.

Then, as the Sabbath ended, and as I researched more Sunday morning, I was deeply disturbed by the reaction I was seeing. Frankly, lately has been a rough time. I have been in an uncharacteristic sour mood. People acting violently. People breaking into Target, taking whatever they want, filling their carts like they were on that old gameshow, Super Market Sweep where you could take whatever you can grab in five minutes. Rioters emptying out a Footlocker in Chicago, looting Jewish businesses in LA. Vandals spraying graffiti on a Synagogue in Fairfax, writing F—Israel, Free Palestine. As if the Jewish community in LA had anything to do with George Floyd’s tragic murder. And even a woman walking through the street with the cheesecake she had just stolen from The Cheesecake Factory.

Paralyzed by these troubling events, I am left only with these initial thoughts: Hate is blind. Hate is universal. Everyone can hate, and everyone can be hated. As a Jew, I know this.

Hate, along with its close first cousin anger, are utterly irrational. Hate obliterates any semblance of rationality. It explains how a white man can cruelly ignore a dying Black man’s pleas for help. It explains how mobs can overtake businesses and empty them out. As if it wasn’t bad enough for these business, struggling to survive due to being shutdown by Covid-19, and often hanging on by a thread, they now get broken into, and have all of their wares ransacked and stolen, as if they had anything to do with Floyd’s tragic murder. I saw pictures of some businesses with signs prominently claiming “minority owned business.” Hate makes it okay to destroy one person’s livelihood due to the color of his skin, but to spare another’s, only because of the color of his skin. Hate is irrational. Hate is insane. It needs to stop.

As we begin to approach our next major Jewish holidays, the 3 Weeks, and Tisha Bav, we commemorate the tragic destruction of our Holy Temple. The Temple, which, as our rabbis teach us, was destroyed because of baseless hatred.

I am generally an optimist. But, we are so utterly lost.

So, so far away.

May G-d help us all.

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