Tag Archives: mass murder

Another Shabbat tinged with Sadness

Memorial candle copyThe mass shootings and murders at Umpqua College in Roseburg, Oregon has made this yet another difficult and tragic week in the United States.

 Again, another individual wrecked havoc on a community slaughtering unsuspecting innocents and destroying the lives of the families left behind. This murderer did this with weaponry that was too easily accessible.

 We need to commit ourselves to keep guns out of the hands of people seeking to harm others as evidenced by a violent criminal history or by a struggle with mental illness. People who are inherently irresponsible cannot handle guns responsibly. It is reasonable to keep guns from them.

 We cannot accept that mass murder and domestic terror are acceptable costs of living in the United States. Yet every time we allow no constructive action to reign in gun violence in this country we become part of the problem. These deaths are no longer just the responsibility of individual actors, be they angry or crazy. The blood is now on our hands. The responsibility is ours. As President Obama said in the wake of yesterday’s tragedy, “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough.” Indeed it is time to turn our revulsion into action. Write or Email your congressman as soon as you finish reading this and give the necessary support to overcome the politics of the gun lobby and demand an end to gun violence. Support responsible legislation that requires background checks of individuals for criminal and psychological issues; that requires documentation registration of all guns and all transfers of ownership, public and private; perform background checks on sale of ammunition; that requires training and licensing of gun owners.   This cycle of horror will cease only when we demand a change.

 Our condolences extend to the families that have been ripped apart by senseless violence. May we honor the memories of the slain through action to prevent this from happening again.

Shabbat Shalom.

My ambivalent relationship with Charlie Hebdo

Je suis Charlie, Je ne suis pas Charlie

Now that the dust has begun to settle around the recent tragic murders in France I wanted to share my thoughts.

My heart goes out to the families of those murdered while at work at Charlie Hebdo. The fanatical rage that drove the two assassins to kill cannot be justified. They destroyed lives and made a mockery of Islam. But my compassion for the people does not extend to the magazine known as Charlie Hebdo.

Our society embraces free speech as a fundamental virtue. What makes free speech truly free is not the defense of easy and virtuous speech, it is rather in the defense of the ugly and the difficult even the vile and despicable. It is here that free speech is truly free. Only if all speech is defended then all speech is protected, including yours and mine. Our caveat has been to limit free speech so that it cannot be the direct cause of harm to others; we cannot yell “Fire” in a crowded theater is the standard example offered. That is not the only censorship we should consider however.

We must self-regulate. Civility and decorum require we consider how our words affect others. That is based on a respect for our fellow human being and the knowledge that words are powerful and can inflict hurt and emotional pain. We often do not account for how our words impact others and we should before indiscriminately lobbing verbal or written bombs.

Charlie Hebdo is not my cup of tea. Its purpose appears to be to offend wherever and however they can. Charlie Hebdo did not single out Islam for disrespect and mockery; Charlie holds nothing sacred. The tabloid seems to respect little more than its own sense of entitlement and right to print whatever they could to offend whoever they could. This attitude effectively limits their bite. Sometimes there is incisive social commentary, but it is rare enough that most of us do not subscribe to Charlie Hebdo.

The magazine was reportedly on the verge of bankruptcy; its circulation had all but dried up. Charlie Hebdo exercised the right to free speech and we exercised our right to protest it by ignoring the rag. That is how civil society deals with such things. Mocking everything means valuing nothing, including the right to express such things. Outrage over the mistreatment of one of the world’s great religions is however understandable. Carnage however, in the name of protecting the religion, does nothing but defile that religion and threatens one of the greatest of all human rights.




December 14th marks the one year anniversary of Newtown…

Grieving for our loss in the Washington Naval Yard, Where do we go from here?

It is truly heartbreaking.

The events in Washington this week have left me wondering.

12 people with stories of life and love were all catastrophically taken away in an incomprehensible moment of horror.  The voice of the mother thankful that her boy is now in a place where he cannot hurt anyone else makes the tragedy even sadder, if that is even possible.  Right now it is time to grieve the loss of those precious souls.  But then we must move on.

 We are at a crossroads of sorts and we can go one of two ways.  First, we can accept as sad fact that this level of violence is the price we pay for living in a free society.  These tragic events are bound to occur and we must accept that every 90 days or so, we will find ourselves mourning the loss of another group of tragic victims.  We will walk around with heavy hearts, and perform the rituals that we will use to move through the loss.  We will lower the flags, offer condolences to the survivors and then continue to live or lives as best we can. But we run the risk of becoming so callous to the pain and suffering that our hearts will harden and each passing slaughter will become easier to bear.   I am not prepared to accept this path.

 Our alternative is to recognize that this tragedy is not only senseless, but it is unacceptable.  We must rise and say this must end.  Human life is precious and deserving of protection.  We therefore must begin the conversation to try to understand why this level of violence persists.  What are the underlying causes and what might the remedies be?  Honest discussion and study needs to occur.  Preconceptions must be set aside.  We must search deep within our society and ourselves and grapple with the extraordinary level of violence that permeates our otherwise civil society.

 Certainly one issue is that of mental health.  Access to mental health treatment is apparently a major issue.  But access requires that we remove the stigma associated with seeking help and even more; provide adequate treatment when help is sought.  Other issues are the pervading place of violence in our culture, access to weaponry regardless of competency, lack of enforcement of existing laws as well as loopholes within existing laws that make those laws toothless.  There certainly is more, but this is a good place to start our analysis.

 In a country such as ours, these events affect us all.  Those who are victims of violence are on some level our brothers and sisters, regardless of their background; we are all Americans.  And if we do not stop this, one day the one who will be mourning the direct loss of a loved one might likely be you.

Central Conference of American Rabbis Statement Concerning Syria

September 12, 2013

The Central Conference of American Rabbis condemns the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons to kill more than 1400 persons, including some 400 children, as a violation of international law and a crime against humanity. As Jews, we are well acquainted with a tyrannical regime’s use of lethal gas to commit mass murder and of the failure of democratic governments to intervene.

The CCAR applauds the President’s decision to respond to the Syrian authorities’ illegal and morally reprehensible conduct and to seek the complete, prompt, and verifiable removal of chemical weapons from Syria by means of diplomacy, if possible, before resorting to the use of military force.

We reaffirm the principle that the use of force should be undertaken with utmost reluctance, only when reasonable alternatives have been exhausted or prove unavailable.

We call on other governments throughout the world to join the effort to ensure that Syria does not commit another such atrocity.

We believe that effective action regarding the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is essential to deter the use of weapons of mass destruction by others and reinforce the credibility of U.S. policy concerning such weapons.

We support the firm and unequivocal determination of the President and Congress to prevent Iran from developing or obtaining nuclear weapons.

We express our deep concern for the State of Israel and its citizens, who have been threatened with retaliation in the event of American military action, and reaffirm the CCAR’s steadfast support for Israel’s right to defend its citizens from all who seek to harm them.

We yearn for the arrival of “the days to come” that Isaiah foresaw, when nations “will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war.”

We pray that the Jewish New Year, recently begun, will see the dawning of peace for the entire human family.


Rabbi Richard A. Block, President
Rabbi Steven Fox, Chief Executive, and
CCAR Board of Trustees