Mourners leave mementos across the street from the Chabad Community Center in Poway, California a day after a shooter killed a congregant and wounded three others, on April 28, 2019. (Gabrielle Birkner)

By Yochanan Gordon

The Torah mandates that the Pesach holiday be observed in the spring season as the verse states: “Shamor es chodesh ha’aviv ki bo yatzasa mi’Mitzrayim.” Pesach has always been synonymous with rebirth as it’s the head of the months, heralding the budding and blossoming of the trees, which for months prior seemed to be zapped of all life. Considering all this, there is nothing more antithetical to that glorious imagery than the events that took place at the Chabad in Poway, California, on the last day of Pesach.

Whether it’s on account of the heinous acts of murder in Poway, Pittsburgh, or in a church in New Zealand, people the world over ask why and search for answers to how to avoid or prevent these acts in the future. I’ll leave it to the forensic experts to figure out what drives these sub-humans. While we need to figure out how to protect ourselves and our communities from copycats, our job right now is to be there for the victims in any way we can.

The Torah perhaps alluded to this in the incident of the burning bush, the sneh, which was the first place G-d revealed himself to Moshe. It was there that Moshe turned to see the bush, engulfed in fire but miraculously not be consumed. Then G-d instructed Moshe to remove his shoes, saying, “Remove your shoes from your feet, for the ground upon which you tread is sacred.”

The instruction for Moshe to remove his shoes is out of the ordinary. Why couldn’t G-d just tell Moshe to be empathetic and compassionate; why remove his shoes? G-d understood that human nature is to search for reasons for why things happen. G-d was teaching Moshe that the characteristic of a leader is to be on an even footing with his people when they are in pain. We don’t seek people to tell us why G-d does what he does, but rather to commiserate with us, to feel our pain, and to lend a shoulder to cry on and be there for us emotionally.

In light of this, more disturbing than anything else is the constant politicizing of these events by people in the media, which may even inspire these heinous acts. One of the marked differences in the years of the Trump administration from the eight previous years is the response to events such as the one we just witnessed. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reminded us of previous policy when in response to the Poway shooting she tweeted, “Heartbroken to hear of the San Diego synagogue shooting, particularly so on this final day of Passover. We have a responsibility to love + protect our neighbors. The longer the Senate delays holding a vote on #HR8, the more we put Americans at risk.” This comment is tantamount to one party telling another “I told you so” instead of commiserating and expressing genuine care and concern for the affected parties. Never mind that this event took place in a state with one of the tightest gun regulations in the country.

Furthermore, in a CNN interview with Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the Chabad shliach in the nation’s capital, the host asked the rabbi if the terrorist attack could be chalked up to the climate of hate this country has seen lately. For those who are not accustomed to reading between the lines, anytime people on the left talk about the climate, it’s a swipe at President Donald Trump.

The host of the interview prodded Rabbi Shemtov numerous times to utter some negative sentiments about the president. Rabbi Shemtov, for his part, did a great job deflecting the question and instead used the national platform he was given to share the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s message of reinstituting a moment of silence to help combat the godlessness of American society. The moment the host saw that Rabbi Shemtov wasn’t biting, he ended the interview abruptly, almost mid-sentence, with the words, “We’ll have to leave it right there.”

However, it’s not just AOC and CNN. Joe Scarborough of MSNBC has also time and again tried to place the onus of similar attacks on the shoulders of the president, without any substantial evidence to corroborate his claims. Waleed Shahid does this on CNN, going on about the president’s inability to respond effectively to these incidents. No president in recent memory has been as strong in his quest to stamp out antisemitism as President Donald Trump.

Rabbi Goldstein, the Chabad shliach of the Chabad of Poway, whose fingers were blown off during the attack, spoke glowingly about the call he received from the president and the source of comfort and consolation he felt during their 15-minute conversation. He said the president asked him what he thought was the right way to address the growing sentiments of antisemitism, and he reaffirmed his strong love for Israel and the Jewish people and his dream towards peace and coexistence.

If there is any pattern of behavior that is cause for concern, it is the lack of human empathy, dignity, and respect for human life and the spilled blood of innocent victims who were killed for no other reason than being Jewish.

Americans are, by and large, sick and tired of the same old partisan platitudes, but I guess the Dems won’t figure that out until they see it in black and white at the ballot boxes.

Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, head shliach of California for the last fifty years, opened his speech at the funeral of Lori Kaye, who was killed during the attack, by saying that we are standing on hallowed ground, not because it was a synagogue but because a member of our people was killed because of their Jewishness. The greatest expression of self-sacrifice is when someone gives up their life for their people. This is a fundamental value that should be universally acceptable, but apparently some people are too desensitized to feel sanctity and holiness and use their platforms to push political positions in a detached, aloof manner.

Anyone who can see the scenes of bloodshed, hear the testimonies of survivors, and harden their hearts, as Pharaoh did in Egypt, to push legislation regardless of whether or not it would have prevented the attack, is actively trampling upon the blood of the victims. It was done in Sandy Hook and in Parkland when CNN as a network shamefully dedicated a town hall to the topic of gun control while the stains of bloodshed were still very much apparent. What will it take for people to raise their fingers from their keyboards and remove themselves from behind their computer screens — which is, in essence, a fulfilment of G-d’s instruction that Moses remove his shoes — and give the deserved respect to the sanctity and the memory of those whose lives were lost in these terrible acts of terror?

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