I reside in Milwaukee, not far from the recent Oak Creek tragedy where a white supremacist shot and killed six peaceful Sikhs and wounded four others. Everyone from any faith should be deeply troubled by this calamity, as am I.
Approximately half-a-year ago, in Toulouse, France, a terrorist shot and killed a peaceful rabbi and three innocent Jewish children.
After the tragedy in France, I was heartbroken and despondent. Despite not personally knowing those killed in France, I couldn’t focus on my work for many days and I was deeply disturbed. I called my rabbi, pouring out my heart, asking how G-d could let this happen.
In my 34 years of existence on this earth, there have unfortunately been many ill-fated issues forced upon the Jewish people (terrorists in Israel, Mumbai attack, Bulgaria bus bombing, Anti-Semitism rising, synagogues defaced, etc.), but for some reason the France killing really set me off, even more than usual.
The Sikh tragedy, whose members I also did not know personally, occurred much closer to home. Despite the tragedy being in my own “backyard” as opposed to thousands of miles away, I somewhat ashamedly admit that to this day I am much more shaken-up by the Jewish French deaths than those of the Sikhs.
This honest accounting of my feelings kept me up at night, as I feared I am a horrible human being for feeling sadder for the Jewish losses than those of the Sikhs.
After all, a life is a life. Who is to say that a Jew’s life is intrinsically worth more than anyone else’s? Isn’t that what I was essentially feeling? Isn’t that what the white supremacist was to some extent echoing?
At 2 a.m., I started to analyze this feeling more logically. If, G-d forbid, my close relative were to die, of course I’d be devastated. If, however, my friend’s family member were to die, I, too, would be saddened but not devastated.
The Jewish people are one family, so feeling more remorseful for your kin is a natural, human tendency. I shouldn’t give myself a guilt-trip for being more distressed by the Jewish killings than that of the Sikhs.
I remember an image in the newspaper of people in India infuriated and up in arms due to the Oak Creek shooting. Do you think the citizens of India were as upset about the Jewish killings in France? Probably not.
I wonder what the responses of the Mumbai citizens were when Jews were targeted in India. Were there also vigils in Mumbai? (It should be noted that the Mumbai situation differs in that not only Jews were targeted; so were several sites throughout Mumbai).
That’s not to say whatsoever that the Sikhs are any less human than Jews, but it shows we normally weep over our kin more than those of other groups.
Is this a flawed human character trait? If a person is truly peace-loving, pluralistic, and culturally sensitive, than maybe we should be equally disturbed by any cowardly act of terrorism, against Jews, Sikhs, or anyone.
This is a philosophical question that can’t easily be answered in this article. Yet let’s look on the positive side, if one can gleam such a thing from such tragedies.
There was on outpouring of the Milwaukee community, where scores of people from different walks of life (Jews among them) that came to pay tribute to the Sikhs in mourning, offering condolences, hugs, and vigils.
The Oak Creek Sikhs responded to this tragedy by reaching out to the community and positively, peacefully continuing to contribute to the very community where the tragedy occurred.
Worldwide, Jews responded similarly to the murders in France. Jews throughout the world urged each other to increase performance of mitzvot (commandments) and give tzedkah (charity) in honor of the Jews killed in Toulouse.
Similarly regarding Mumbai (which occurred approximately four-and-a-half years prior), I remember attending a memorial service at Milwaukee’s Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center shortly after the attacks.
I’ll never forget that at the end of the service, people were urged to do something nice in the memory of those who were slain, again, to take on one extra mitzvah, to spread light in the world in honor of those whose lives were taken.
Whether it was the Sikhs or the Jews, both peoples responded not vengefully but by increasing acts of kindness into this world. While we may tend to bemoan the tragedies of our own kin more, maybe human nature is on the right path.
Maybe my guilt is healthy, as long as it spurs me to continue being kind to everyone. After all, you and I are adjured to be a light unto the nations.
Joshua Becker is a Spanish teacher for Shorewood Public Schools and a freelance writer.