Some events in life are indelibly inked into one’s memory. Yom Kippur of 1973, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, was one of those dates for me.
On that day, Arab nations led by Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel in an attempt to regain the land occupied from the Six-Day War of 1967.
That day was the first time I had ever seen police and armed guards at Temple Sinai, my synagogue in Philadelphia. Our rabbi, Sidney Greenberg, called for that protection, recognizing the eminent threat to his congregation.
What a strange, unsettling feeling to have the sanctuary of prayer and the center of my family’s life in need of pre-emptive protection. Who in their right mind would dare invade any house of worship with the intent to kill?
I understood anti-Semitism passively but never experienced it with the impact of that day in 1973. Never before had there been the need for police and armed guard protection, and, for Rabbi Greenberg, the most spiritual leader I have ever known, to recognize that need truly was intuitive and remarkable.
And now, many years later, as if it were yesterday, the events of that day in 1973 replayed themselves again, triggered by the atrocity of murder in Pittsburgh. There always have been and always will be the insane, with a purpose in life to end life, and that includes their own. There will be, for the foreseeable future, agents of hate and hatemongers to egg on the lunatic fringe into action. The murders last week fueled by Jewish hate were crimes against humanity, not just Jews. Last week we were all Jews, vulnerable in our place of worship. Last week we were all innocents wondering what public place will be the next violation of our freedom and peace of mind.
Until we figure out a solution or morph into a culture that won’t tolerate, teach or make acceptable the stage of violence, we must adopt an organized and intelligent plan to protect ourselves. It’s a matter of self-preservation. And like Rabbi Greenberg, we must make the hard decision to secure and protect all of our houses of worship, schools and public places where the insane might take advantage.
We deal with this kind of violence like an infectious disease, reacting with antibiotics until it passes, then forgetting until the next episode of illness comes along. Churches throughout this country have learned to protect themselves pre-emptively, by forming trained volunteer security teams. They protect their parishioners and religious leaders during services and at all times. Synagogues in Spokane, Washington, a city close to the epicenter of hate — Hayden, Idaho — are like fortresses, protecting their members from the ever-present danger across the river. We must adopt that mentality of protection until a more permanent solution can be reached — if it ever can be reached.
And for our president, it was not only the time to support Jews, but the time to denounce crimes against humanity, any and all individuals and organizations that would even remotely support the ideology of hate aimed at any of us — and he did not do it! We need him to denounce and condemn these actions and organizations by name and set an example for all of us to follow.
For now, my prayer this Sabbath is “forgive but never forget.” Heal thyself, America, with the first step, by individually taking action to protect ourselves.
We will never stop insanity, but at least there will be a peace in knowing that each one of us (our president included) did everything we could do to prevent the unexpurgated access and passive approval for mass crimes of hate.
Steven Saslow is owner of Rosebud Media and publisher of the Mail Tribune and Ashland Daily Tidings.