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mah nishtanah?

01/26/2023 09:31:15 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

I received a text from a dear friend and colleague on Tuesday morning that read: “Boker Tov (good morning). Just wanted you to know that I’m thinking of you and praying fervently for the people in this forsaken country”.  I’m blessed to have many dear colleagues who continue to support me 4 1/2 years later. Alas when mass shootings occur, I’m on their minds and prayers. The health and state of our country are in my prayers, yet both you and I know that will not be enough. 

According to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks mass shootings in the United States, there were 647 mass shootings in the US last year, nearly two per day.  There have been 39 this year in just three weeks.  While I guess that being a survivor of a mass shooting has made me more attuned to the subject, today I shake my head in sorrow at the senseless loss of life in California.  I could reprint a prior blog in this deja vu moment, reposting the anticipated words and deeds of people in positions of power: thoughts and prayers; call to action; debate; on to next news item; inaction; repeat.  I do not recall where I first heard this, and could not locate the source, but, isn’t the definition of idiocy repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome?

I’m not going to be swept up in the hopes of “this time it will be different” mentality, for we know that not to be the case. I’d like us to consider for a moment the impact that 647 mass shootings have had on all of those communities.  We have been fortunate in Pittsburgh to receive federal funding for a Resiliency Center, a place where anyone who needs support to improve their mental health can go.  I think of all the communities impacted last year, and prior years.  Since 2014, there have been 3,432 mass shootings in the United States.  What resources, if any, have been made available to all of these impacted communities? Are there enough mental health professionals, trained in this horrifically tragic subset, to serve the needs of these communities?

The United States government fines corporations for breaking the law or assesses them penalties without any admission of guilt, and it also seizes ill -gotten gains.  These funds are supposed to be reinvested back into communities.  Having experienced a mass shooting, I have witnessed the benefits of quality mental health professionals upon a community due to federal funding. I would expect that every community impacted by a mass shooting would benefit from this type of federal funding as well.

I would like to hope that there are enough smart people to devise workable solutions to the unending epidemic of mass shootings, a disease unique to the United States, and something for which we cannot brag. I have not read nor heard of any proposed solutions, and yet, while inaction rules the day, the death toll and mental health toll mounts. In the absence of proactive tools, can we at least agree upon reactive tools to promote healing in our communities? We share collective responsibility as a society for the state of our nation, a civic pact that being a citizen demands of us. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Their pain is our pain.  Our inaction is our shame. The club that I belong to that no one should have to belong to grows by nearly two communities every single day. That is the naked truth about America ignored amidst other seemingly pressing matters. While I think that I alone cannot fix it, I bear responsibility, as do each of us, to try.  The words of this oft-cited verse of Pirkei Avot 2:21 continue to resonate: You are not obliged to finish the task, neither are you free to neglect it. Or, as Master Yoda said: Try you must. And so I will.

Thu, March 30 2023 8 Nisan 5783