Judaism has a longstanding tradition of declaring a day of fast in times of crisis. Such days are meant for deep reflection, if not repentance, for individuals and for the community.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that at a time when our nation is reeling from the latest tragedies related to mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, we are on the eve of Tisha b’Av, which falls on this Shabbat, though the fast is delayed until Saturday night and Sunday.
The saddest day on the Jewish calendar, it commemorates the destruction of the two Temples in ancient times, centuries apart. According to tradition, the biblical spies returned from the Promised Land with their negative report on the 9th of Av. In Jewish history, it was on Tisha b’Av that the Jews were expelled from England in 1290, and banished from Spain in 1492. And the outbreak of World War I and World War II have connections to Tisha b’Av, as well.
As numb as we fear we have become on learning of mass shootings, there is still the shock of each incident, the poignant profiles we read of the victims, and the endless speculation about what drives people to commit such heinous crimes. And, it should be noted, we wonder what motivates would-be victims, bystanders, and police officers to risk their lives to save people and prevent further mayhem.
In our increasingly binary country of red vs. blue, Democrat vs. Republican, these awful shootings take on a political tone almost immediately. Is the problem the easy access of guns, including assault rifles, or is it mental illness or even violent video games? Or is it all of the above, and a host of other factors as well?
President Donald Trump spoke out forcefully on Monday and said all the right things in his prepared remarks about fighting crimes of hate. But in his rallies, tweets, and other statements, he has consistently described our nation as divided between “us” and “them,” the good citizens and the others, an approach so alien from past presidents who saw their role as trying to unite rather than divide our society.
The question is not whether the president bears direct responsibility for these horrific shootings. Rather, the question is whether we can continue to think of ourselves as a civilized society when we allow our elected officials in Washington to do no more than offer their thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims after the fact. As the blood continues to spill and the bodies pile up.
Our government must pursue terrorism in every form, responding as aggressively to white nationalist militants as it does to Islamic militants.
On Tisha b’Av, as we mourn the tragedies of the fallen Temples and the persecution our people suffered over the centuries, we should take time to think about how each of us can commit to extending ourselves — to our neighbors, to our community, to ensuring that our society’s noble ideals are more than words. Unless and until we take a share of responsibility for America The Bloodied, the shootings will continue and we will become increasingly deadened to the pain.