Tucson’s Trifecta Affects Us

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Arizona Cactus Sunset
12 Jan 2011

Health care, politics, and religion formed Tucson’s trifecta of loss earlier this week when a lone gunman opened fire on a crowd outside of a Safeway supermarket. The shooting spree, which targeted Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, resulted in the deaths of six people including U.S. District Judge John Roll and Congressional Aide Gabe Zimmerman.

Giffords remains in intensive care while the OU’s Institute for Political Affairs issued a statement urging the Jewish community to keep the Congresswoman’s recovery in our prayers. President Obama called for a national moment of silence to honor the innocent victims of the senseless tragedy, but in that moment of silence, most of us were considering the need for something beyond just a moment of silence.

The Jewish community has particular reason for deep reflection; Giffords, whose father is Jewish, is known for pushing Jewish and pro-Israel issues to the forefront at both state and federal levels. But while this country’s long term response remains to be seen, how should we, the Jewish community, be responding?

The knee-jerk reaction will be aimed at Arizona’s gun laws. Among the country’s most permissive, it enabled accused assassin, Jared Lee Loughner, to conceal and carry his weapon – a Glock 19 semi automatic weapon – without a permit. But what’s really disturbing is Loughner’s well-known history of mental health instability and drug use that went untreated. Most disturbing of all, although anti-Semitic intent has not yet been linked to any motive, Loughner was known to have listed Mein Kampf as one of his favorite books.

Gun laws aside, just two days prior to the attack, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, OU Executive Vice President Emeritus, focused on two of these particular issues (the rise of anti-Semitic sentiment and mental health care concerns) in an article, What’s Needed In Orthodox Leadership (Jewish Press), urging courage, candor and a comprehensive view so that:

a) the Jewish community and its leaders “never lose sight of the fact that the anti-Semite does not limit his hatred to any one sector of the Jewish people. One can never say that the threat of anti-Semitism is only present in some faraway land, or that only those who are visibly Jewish are its targets”.

b) we confront the complex category of mental health ills (dysfunctional families, domestic violence, sexual and substance abuse) without resorting to denial and recognizing that such ills are “not restricted to some subclass of outcasts, but rather pervade our communities, from left to right, from FFB to BT, from chassid to Modern Orthodox”

There’s no coincidence here; these are both current topics of concern, Tucson’s tragedy is just one more sad consequence of our failure to be proactive. Continued silence only begets the need for national moments of silence, so it behooves all of us to consider the full text of Rabbi Weinreb’s article (What’s Needed In Orthodox Leadership). Whether you’re Jewish, or whether you’re not, whether you’re a layman or whether you’re a leader, it’s time for Americans in general, and American Jews in particular to confront the social demons we’ve been ignoring for too long.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.