Other Side of the Bench by David Seidemann


In my 20s, I had the tremendous pleasure to serve as the regional director of the Central East region of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth. Looking back, it was one of the most fulfilling periods of my life. I traveled extensively, not only within my region, but throughout the entire country and Canada. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was one of the cities within the Central East region, and I spent many Shabosim there developing relationships with not only the youth, but with rabbis and community members as well. I am very familiar with the Squirrel Hill area. The news immediately after Shabbos was deeply personal for me.

I thought of all the Shabbatons I attended there over the years, first as a kid in NCSY and then years later as the regional director. I grabbed my phone last Saturday night and immediately texted my good friend Judge Danny Butler who resides in Pittsburgh and who trained me to become the regional director. I was nervous when I didn’t receive an immediate response but breathed a sigh of relief a few hours later when he texted me that he and his family were safe.

But my breathing since then has been labored. Over the last few nights, teaching at Touro I set aside the planned lectures on constitutional law and for hours we discussed the rise of antisemitism — violent and non-violent, from college campuses to shuls in Pittsburgh to Brooklyn, Israel, and Europe.

Our reaction to those abhorrent acts are clear or should be clear. They come as no surprise, and add no pain. Actually, responding in the manner we should respond provides some solace. The days of Jews being the victim are over. We know how we have to deal with the virulent antisemitism coming from without.

What is disturbing to me and I imagine others over the last few days since the barbaric attack is the reaction from people who should know better.

There is the congressman who claimed that President Trump’s actions in dividing races and religions in the United States was the cause for the shooting. This dribble shows a profound lack of understanding of human nature. This murderer did not listen to a speech from Trump, buy a gun, and shoot Jews. His nature, his hatred, his pathology existed long before anything said or done or not said or not done by Mr. Trump.

Then there was the mayor who stood in front of a microphone and told us that we don’t need security at places of worship. My sources tell me that he has armed guards at his workout at the local gym every morning. It is a sad commentary on our society that we need to even consider armed personnel at our shuls. But that is that sad reality. The mayor’s comment reflects the knee jerk reaction to simply speak the opposite of what the president said.

It is ironic, but one of the sources of antisemitism is the human condition and predisposition to engage in scapegoating, blaming someone who in reality is blameless. And that’s exactly what that congressman did. Instead of crying over the loss of 11 Jewish Americans, he ignores the suffering of the entirety of the Jewish people and blames another. That, my friends, is at the core of antisemitism. He displayed a fundamental misunderstanding of the human cause and effect.

And then there are others who add unfathomable pain to the tragedy. In doing so, they are not ignoring the human element. To the contrary, they are presupposing G-d’s place in these events.

I speak of those who claim to speak for G-d, who offer reasons why these people were slaughtered and comment on the level of religious observance of the victims. They seek to qualify the degree to which we should pray for those that suffered and those that continue to suffer.

My dear friend Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, of blessed memory, famously said, “If he was a Jew enough for Hitler to hate, he is a Jew enough for me to love.”

The antisemite who shoots the living has a corrupted soul. The Jew who speaks ill of the dead, who speaks with the self-appointed supposed knowledge of the way G-d judges his flock, should search his soul. The pain you might be heaping on families who are suffering might be immeasurable. As Jews, we need to be a source of comfort to our brothers and sisters. If you believe they are off the right path, the only way to ever entice them to return is to shower them with love, compassion, and concern. Be a human, and let G-d be G-d.

David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or ds@lawofficesm.com.


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