Friday, April 19, 2013

Shabbat-O-Gram for April 19: The Aftermath of Boston and Redeeming Kitty Genovese

 "Tomorrow the sun will rise over Boston. 
Tomorrow the sun will rise over the - this country that we love, 
this special place, this state of grace."

In the aftermath of the shocking events coming out of Boston on Monday, following the many other tragedies people have endured recently, what is most remarkable is how people have come together to help out those who are suffering.  Our capacity for kindness is never to be underestimated, but as the world around us becomes increasingly dangerous, it seems that people are becoming increasingly kind - and courageous. 

Watching video of the horrifying moments following the explosion only confirms that assertion. A number of people have commented on how incredible it is that so many actually ran toward the smoke and shrapnel, rather than away from it.  Many were first responders, others were photographers, but many others were simply bystanders looking to help.  And just as everyone with a cell phone has become a recorder of history in this Digital Age, so have we become active participants in unfolding dramas, such as the one going on right now in Boston.  There is no longer such a thing as a bystander.

This week's portion of Kedoshim contains the commandment, "Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor (Leviticus 19:16)." The Jewish approach has been, from ancient times, never to look the other way.  Regrettably, that is not human nature, or at least it wasn't until now.  We seem to have evolved beyond what has been called the Genovese syndromea social psychological phenomenon referring to cases where individuals do not offer any means of help in an emergency situation to the victim when other people are present.  It's named for a famous case of a woman murdered in Queens in 1964, Kitty Genovese, before dozens of bystanders who did nothing to help her.  The case became emblematic of the uncaring urban environment that was America of that era and it was a stain on New Yorkers in particular. 

I believe this week's events, following in the wake of Newtown, Aurora, 9/11 and countless other recent tragedies, tells us that a seismic social shift is occurring.  In the midst of all the bad news, then, there is some good news: 

Kitty Genovese is at last being redeemed. 

We will be discussing Leviticus 19:16 on Shabbat morning in greater detail, in light of this week's events.  Our service tomorrow will take place in the lobby (as it will also of course tonight).  You can preview my parsha packet study guide here.  Join us, and let us know if you think we have become a more caring society.

Meanwhile, tonight and tomorrow, and beyond, we'll pray for Boston.

We can be inspired by this poem written this week by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat:

Prayer After the Bombing

Plant your feet firmly on the ground, your head
held high as though by a string.

Listen to the red-winged blackbirds, the spring frogs.
There is an aquifer in your heart: send a dipper down.

What have you drawn forth? Send it
out of this room like waves of song.

Float it around the Hairpin Turn, along
the old Mohawk Trail. Direct it toward the rising sun.

Our hearts are in the east though we are in the west.
Blanket the wounded city with melody.

Sing to the runners with aching hamstrings
to the bewildered families who lined the marathon route

to the children who are trying to make sense
to the adults who are trying to make sense

to the EMTs and policemen who ran
not away from the suffering, but into the fire

sing to the grieving families, here and everywhere.
Inhale again, reach into your well:

is there light even for the twisted soul of the bomber?
Now sing to yourself, sluice your own wounds.

We are loved by an unending love.
Listen to the birds again, and remember.

We are loved by an unending love...

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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