(April 29, 2019 / JNS) When a natural or human-made disaster strikes my community, it’s my natural instinct to write about it. That was the case when floods devastated Houston year after year after year, and now again after the shooting at Chabad of Poway, Calif.
It’s not that I feel I possess any insider information or anything more profound to say about these incidents than the next person. It comes from a sense of obligation. Everybody has the ability to contribute their unique talents to a healing process. Words don’t provide full healing, but what really does? The written word can give perspective on a traumatic event and place it within context. And if just one reader gains a new perspective, then mission accomplished.
I don’t react emotionally to the news. For me, it’s a function of working in journalism and now in public relations. A major news event means business. Rather than soul-searching, it involves searching for the most unique angle, the most dramatic photo or the most prestigious exclusive interview.
The Houston floods were the exception, as they damaged the neighborhood where I lived and the synagogue where I prayed. The San Diego shooting wasn’t the same. I live in La Jolla—a 21-mile, 30-minute drive from Chabad of Poway, Calif. I’ve never stepped foot in the building. For all intents and purposes, it could’ve been located across the country. The shooting just didn’t feel very close to home.
Yet just like the Oct. 27 synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, it also felt all too close to home. It doesn’t matter that one congregant was killed in Poway and 11 were killed in Pittsburgh. It’s the message, not the body count. From Pittsburgh to Poway, the haunting feeling is the same. These were attacks on the Jewish people’s fundamental rituals and routines; attacks on our way of life; and on the final day of Passover in Poway, an attack on our freedom during our religion’s holiday of freedom.
It’s easy to be horrified, yet simultaneously numbed by a synagogue shooting. On the one hand, it’s an unthinkable anti-Semitic attack. On the other hand, it’s a relatively unsurprising reminder that ugly and deadly anti-Semitism is a real part of daily life in America. Initially, I’ll cringe, but eventually, I’ll shrug when I repeatedly include a mention of the Poway shooting in any piece of writing about American anti-Semitism for the foreseeable future—the same pattern that has played out for me in the months following the Pittsburgh shooting.
As another anti-Semitic attack makes its way into the news cycle and will likely remain at the forefront of public consciousness for some time, there’s no perfectly worded press statement that can adequately condemn it. Undoubtedly, publicists will keep producing those statements in their press releases, and journalists will keep quoting the statements in their articles.
But what’s more important is what we don’t say, write or post about the Poway shooting—that we don’t try to swiftly score political points based on the shooter’s race or religion, or on flashpoint issues like gun control. There’s certainly a time and place for such debates, but the immediate aftermath of a tragedy should provide breathing room to mourn purely, without capitalizing on any particular agenda.
That’s the least we can do for the victims.
Jacob Kamaras is the former editor in chief of the Jewish News Syndicate. His writing on the Middle East, American politics and Eurasia has appeared in The Washington Times, Independent Journal Review, The American Spectator, The Daily Caller, CNS News and other publications.