It started out like any other Saturday. Great. I needed that quiet weekend to rest up from a harrowing week of gut-busting politics before we all see whose gut gets busted in the midterm elections.
Robert Bowers of Pennsylvania had other plans for this particular weekend. He walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh and started shooting. There’s some confusion over whether or not he preceded his bullets by shouting “All Jews must die!” Who cares? Eleven of them did before he took a few bullets himself from law enforcement and surrendered.
I thought of the many Saturday mornings I’d sat in worship at a similar synagogue, and how foolish I’d felt for decades knowing Jew-haters were out there festering for the chance to become Jew-killers, and there we were, a whole synagogue bulging with Jews without so much as a strip of gauze to protect us against a gunman bent on mass-murder. My nightmare was Robert Bowers’s fantasy.
I’d always felt superior to those like Robert Bowers because I did my hating retail, not wholesale. In fact, I couldn’t honestly call it hating. It rarely got beyond dislike. And those I disliked – individuals, not ethnicities – never suffered, because my brand of dislike would never cause me to even deprive someone of a parking space in Manhattan, much less his life. But hate found a way. Robert Bowers was more successful bringing his fantasy of Jew-killing to life than I was at bringing to life my fantasy of Jewish self-defense.
Our synagogue was split along political lines. After services and the ritualistic breaking of bread, we could take our cookies and coffee to any table we chose in the social hall. I usually sat with only one table-mate, a Texas Jew who was politically more conservative than I am. Everybody else sat everyplace else. If I’d been a murderous anti-Semite instead of a patriotic Jew, I probably could have killed off more Jews than Bowers did merely by suggesting that we hire an armed guard to provide protection! That’s an exaggeration. There might well have been difficult breathing, and some of the weaker congregants may have had to take a pill and lie down, but the suggestion that we enlist armed protection wouldn’t have done much more than to solidify their antipathy toward conservatives! President Trump made that same suggestion along with his initial denunciation of the mass murder and his offer of condolences to the Tree of Life Synagogue.
My hometown in North Carolina had about a hundred Jewish families. Only one that we knew of had a firearm. Every single Christian home was armed, and unapologetically so. We used to gather in the basement of the “Jewish arsenal” and gape in awe as the owner cleaned his weapon and taught us the rudiments of gun safety. Here we have the end of the myth of Jewish intelligence. The danger is clear. Protection is available. Every single member of our synagogue was proud of Israel’s demonstrated ability at self-defense, and yet I would be disfellowshipped if I dared commit the horrid heresy of suggesting we protect ourselves with appropriate weapons!
I told my Texas friend that, thanks to a great rabbi, our congregation would definitely be redeemed spiritually, but we’d never be redeemed politically.
Look where our civilization has taken us. We know all about the chemical content of the dirt on Mars, but we can’t begin to explain what makes a man like Robert Bowers load himself up with three handguns and a rifle on a Saturday morning and walk into a house of worship and end the lives of 11 people he didn’t know. All he knew about them was that they worshiped the same God he purported to worship, but from a different angle. And for that, in his mind, they had no right to live.
Thank you, Mr. Bowers. You’ve done a lot for the Jewish people by not being one.