In wake of massacre in Pittsburgh, empathy needed now more than ever

The recent shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue demonstrates that our society does not properly promote being empathetic and sensitive towards one another.

The recent shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue demonstrates that our society does not properly promote being empathetic and sensitive towards one another.

Image By: Image courtesy of Flickr

Cecil Rosenthal, a victim in the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, was a member of the organization Best Buddies. Best Buddies matches adults with disabilities with college students and hosts events to help facilitate the friendship between them. Cecil brought his buddy, David, to services and prided himself on being the member of the congregation who had the job of carrying the Torah. 

I am a part of Best Buddies as well. More than anything else I’ve ever been a part of Best Buddies has taught me we are all really more similar than we think. I send cat GIFs back and forth with one of my buddies, Lisa, all the time. My buddy, Dolphine, who is deaf as well as having an intellectual disability, and I used to love to share gossip as she would sign to me and I would google the words. I learned that, if you just put in a little bit of effort, you can relate to just about anyone. 

Yes, people wish the alleged shooter, Robert Bowers, had not purchased four weapons, wish he had not posted a hateful message on gab.com and wish he would have never opened the doors of The Tree of Life Synagogue. But, what I wish most, is that he had been a part of Best Buddies when he was in college. I wonder if he would have committed this act if he had. 

In school we are forced to learn science and math and English but the choice to learn empathy is not enforced. That is a choice every individual must make for themselves. 

Among one of Trump’s many noteworthy values is that hate is okay. If you want to take three pistols and an AR-15 into a house of worship because you have very disordered priorities you not only can, Trump will protect you with a few words of vague remorse in front of the cameras and then a pat on the back when the broadcast ends. With Trump’s trademark apathy he has mobilized self-proclaimed human militias by reactivating the hateful hearts of Americans in Orlando, Parkland, Charlotteville, you name it. He has broken the ever-so-heavy chains of empathy and released savagery to run wild in America. 

With a destructive role model in the White House an even heavier burden falls on us to rectify this acceptance of hate in the U.S. It may seem too large a task for individuals but it’s attainable nonetheless. We must squash hatred when we see it rear its ugly head. When you see someone being bullied, say something. When you’re signing your kids up for extra-curriculars sign them up for something community service oriented and teach them the joy of helping others. When your friends are maliciously gossiping, say something. Vote for politicians that believe in fundamental human equality. Canvas for them as well. If we don’t act, we enable hatred. Then we’re no better than Trump and if that doesn’t make you cringe I don’t know what will. 

I already see signs of this hate crime fading out of the public's attention and into the past soon. Anti-Semitism doesn’t have fun colored flags and parades like LGBTQ+ rights or anthemic songs and nationally recognized hashtags like civil rights. It’s not an eye-catching, millennial-loving icon of an issue but clearly it lurks in the shadows in places we wouldn’t even suspect. We can’t stop talking about it. We can’t let it slip away into history. Maybe anti-Semitism wasn’t on our radar before but it certainly should be now. 

Almost every person I have seen post about this shooting on social media has been Jewish. Being Jewish myself I know well that Judaism is a family and getting sympathy exclusively from your family is simply not enough. Jews only make up 2% of the American population. We need allies to shed light on anti-Semitism or our voices will barely make a murmur in the political dialogue. 

Judaism embraces the notion of acceptance. In fact, my synagogue prides itself on the fact that Martin Luther King Junior stayed a night there once. I also remember learning about different religious customs in Hebrew School because what religious education would be complete without an education on other religions as well as yours? Follow the lead of Judaism. Be accepting. Be curious about other people instead of filling your ignorant brain with rage. Try love first. Only empathy can save us now.

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