In the days since a Jew-hating gunman killed eleven precious members of Klal Yisroel in Pittsburgh, there have been many expressions of shock, outrage and, above all, mourning.
It was no surprise, of course, that Jewish leaders and Jewish organizations were quick to weigh in with statements conveying their deep feelings. And no surprise, either, that there would be condemnations of the horrific act, and sympathy extended to the Pittsburgh Jewish community and to all Jews, from elected officials.
But worth pondering is how the murders — amid tens of thousands of fatal shootings yearly in the U.S. — seized the national attention. Obviously, a mass shooting is news. And when a gunman invades a house of worship and shouts about hating a particular ethnic, racial or religious group as he wreaks his evil, that rightly garners even more attention than the average madman’s rampage, and certainly more than the killings that take place daily in American cities.
But the depth and breadth of the reaction of Americans across the nation, across the political and social and religious spectra, was remarkable. Not only political figures like the president and vice president, and not only members of Congress and governors and mayors, but musicians and entertainers (including comedians who were uncharacteristically struck serious), sports teams and players, and Americans of all societal strata and walks of life stopped their lives to acknowledge the terrible tragedy that the Jewish people endured the Shabbos before last.
The flags lowered, “in solemn respect,” to half-mast — pursuant to a presidential order for federal buildings but widely undertaken by many states, municipalities and individuals — were, it seemed, everywhere.
And, on Erev Shabbos, the largest newspaper in Pittsburgh printed part of Kaddish as its front-page headline.
It is well known that the Torah-centered American community is deeply appreciative of the country in which we are privileged to live. Regularly referred to, as Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, would say, as a “malchus shel chessed,” the United States offered Jews unprecedented opportunities and protections. We know our people’s history, and we know how exceptional the American experiment has proven.
The Constitutional mandate that the government may not interfere with religious practice, the broad social services from which our community, among many others, benefits, the ability to vote freely, and so many other freedoms and protections afforded all Americans are not taken for granted by any sensitive Torah Jew.
American Jews can freely voice their concerns, whether about domestic affairs or foreign policy, to government, and know that they will be taken seriously by the elected representatives of the citizenry.
The United States has proven extremely hospitable to our community. Unprecedented numbers of institutions of Torah and Torah education have been established and thrive — as do entire vicinities and even towns whose communal life revolves around Torah and yiras Shamayim.
No less deeply appreciated are the many actions of the executive and legislative branches of our federal government to help ensure the security of our brethren in Eretz Yisrael — not only for the billions of dollars in aid the U.S. has allocated to Israel over the years, but also for the strong and principled statements of appreciation for the country far from these shores that was founded and is largely populated by Jews.
Yes, there have been ups and downs, eras when Jewish citizens may not have felt fully protected or secure, and decisions that we may have felt were misguided. And yes, as we know all too well, there are hateful people amid the populace. But the United States has proven itself a singular haven for its Jewish citizens, and hatreds are harbored by foul individuals in every land and country.
The bottom line is that we must feel an abundant hakaras hatov for the United States. And, as the recent outpouring of sympathy and concern for our community should convince us, appreciation for the good-hearted fellow citizens who spoke up to express their feelings about the recent tragedy to American Jewry.
We are still very much in galus, as the outrage that yielded all the good will has reminded us. And we must never allow the comfort and security we feel to obscure that fact or dampen our fervent tefillos that the Geulah sheleimah arrive quickly.
But, at the same time, we must recognize — and thank Hashem for — the unique nature of the American stop on the way to yemos haMashiach.