As president of the synagogue as with all our volunteers it’s often said that we give our blood, sweat, and tears. Well, today, along with many of our members, I literally gave my blood as I participated in the semi-annual Beth El blood drive. Coming off of a beautiful Friday night service where we celebrated and honored the extraordinary efforts of all our volunteers, notably our volunteer of the year Lynne Mitchell, this activity seemed particularly poignant and palpable.
The basking in the glory of the praises that were showered upon our volunteers Friday night seemed to have subsided. The synagogue was hopping with volunteer activity on this crisp and bright Spring Sunday morning. Whether it was the kindness exuding from those helping out at the blood drive, the frenetic congregating of our membership committee, or the helpful assistance provided to our members shopping at the synagogue gift shop, there seem to be no let up from our volunteers as the perpetual momentum of giving at Beth El continued to roll on.
However, the pride and joy I felt from such positive stirrings was immediately and abruptly interrupted. Like the scratch of a needle on a record player, the pinch and burning sensation from the needle entering my arm forcibly redirected my attention to something much less pleasant. The momentary sharp pain, I imagined, paled in comparison to the pain felt by those who suffered unimaginable injuries from the bombings during the Boston Marathon earlier in the week. But unlike the pain I felt and those physically injured, the trauma from witnessing such a heinous act or worse, the sorrow of losing a loved one as a result, is a heart-wrenching pain that will last a lifetime and never ever really fade away.
It’s unfathomable the hate that must be inside someone to give them the ability to commit such a horrific act. As Jews, we know all too well that terrorist acts such as this one often spring forth out of an enormous amount of hate towards those with ideological differences. The pain that arises from the underlying anger must be so great for the perpetrator that the only way to alleviate their suffering is to cause others to suffer too.
The feeling of anger can stem from among other things, religious, political, or philosophical differences. It’s as if one’s beliefs are mental images of themselves that must be defended at all cost. But why must that be? Why does the simple fact that someone has a differing opinion threaten one’s own opinion and by extension their very own existence? For the threatening of one’s own existence, might be one of the few conceivable situations that we could imagine compelling someone to perform such awful crimes.
Unfortunately, a quick watch of the news each night can provide us with a glimpse into the pervasiveness of the hate that exists as a consequence of people with opposing viewpoints. And while we would scoff at the absurdity and ridiculousness of people arguing over such mundane differences like one’s preference for vanilla over chocolate, we have all seen too often visceral anger expressed concerning inconsequential matters — matters that in a moment seem so monumentally important; yet, especially when viewed in the context of the fragility of life, are insignificant and meaningless.
I personally have seen an inordinate amount of anger expressed in incidents where someone is perceived as taking “another’s parking spot” or when a dinner was not served at a restaurant in a timely fashion.
But so often in the course of everyday life we easily and carelessly bat around the word hate as if it is truly how we feel about the color of a car or a song that is overplayed on the radio. I have seen venomous hate pour out of an individual simply because a grown man missed hitting a round ball with a wooden bat while playing a child’s game.
Even when terrible incidents occur like the bombings in Boston, those that are victims or are viewed on the side of “right,” can inadvertently reflect the hatred being expressed. In an effort to find the answers to the question nagging at our hearts, we quickly and easily point the blame at those we don’t trust or are not one of us; yet, expressing that hatred is precisely the behavior we so vehemently oppose.
But if there can be any positive outcome to a tragedy, the bombings at the Boston Marathon did provide us with the cold water in the face we sometimes need to remind us of the important things in life. The intense hatred that is often expressed between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, at least for now, is more of a mutual respect than a raging hate.
It was in the early cold days of spring training when Kevin Youkilis, a long-time Red Sox player, who, in the offseason was traded to the much reviled New York Yankees, expressed his allegiance to his former team by saying, “I’ll always be a Red Sox.” Instead of being respected for his loyal comments, his new devotees vilified him for not abandoning his previous team that had been so good to him and had provided him with such wonderful experiences.
However, today in the wake of the suffering and loss from the Boston Marathon bombings, the two cities have come together putting aside competitive differences in exchange for the common thread of life we all share. Anyone who heard the native New Yorker Neil Diamond’s emotional rendition of his own “Sweet Caroline” at Boston’s Fenway Park, the Red Sox’s self-proclaimed anthem, would know that perhaps the bombs may have shattered more than just the lives of innocent people. Perhaps, the walls that exist between people that normally express an awful disdain for each other, at least on a temporary basis, has been shattered too. So out of a horrific experience, as is often the case, we can take away at least something positive. Maybe we can cherish and embrace the solace we feel from the site of Yankee fans, arm in arm, singing “Sweet Caroline” in genuine tribute and support for their Boston Rivals or the encouraging feeling that comes from the knowledge that people are being just a little bit nicer to each other.
But my hope and prayer is that as the memory of the terrible act fades the positive feelings that have been stirred continue to grow stronger. When will the cruel heartbreaks of life no longer stand as our reminders of what’s important in life? I don’t know, perhaps this is just our fate or a function of the human condition. So we cling to the splendor of our Jewish faith and the love of our families and friends to help us grow and see the beauty that is inherent within the sometimes harsh realities of life.