Sunday, January 9, 2011

Heartbroken


As the former Associate Rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Tucson, Arizona, I had the distinct pleasure and honor of meeting and speaking with Representative Gabrielle Giffords on multiple occasions. I recall our first meeting was when I introduced her to speak before our congregation at our Rodeo Shabbat service on her recent trip to the Middle East. Her words were both eloquent and insightful about the challenges facing Israel and the United States in such a volatile region.

Gabrielle, though always Gabby to her friends and constituents alike, cares deeply about the people of Arizona. She came back regularly even during the tumultuous debates over Health Care reform to genuinely listen to the concerns of the voters. Gabby is also a passionate and proud Jew and attended a number of services at Temple Emanu-El and participated in interfaith efforts as well.

The last time I spent time with her was at a lunch of the Pima County Commissioners, where Gabby took the time to speak with each individual who came her way.

Thus it was absolutely devastating for me on a personal level to find out she was the victim of a premeditated assault of such ferocity that it left numerous innocent victims, including Gabby, in its wake. I found my heart pounding in part because I have shopped at that Safeway, and even when I wasn’t shopping there, I must have passed by that location a thousand times. I have also visited numerous congregants at both Northwest Hospital and University Medical Center, a hospital so close to my former home it was in walking distance. Even though it was Shabbes, I felt I could have been at any one of those locations as the tragic events unfolded yesterday morning.

Needless to say, I personally am still struggling to make sense of this tragedy, of the attack, and of the lives lost. Finding meaning may take days, weeks, lifetimes, or simply may never come. All I know is that my heart is heavy and my prayers are with those recovering and those grieving as well as the whole Tucson community.

Whether or not the attacker was influenced by the growing political vitriol in today’s world remains to be seen, and we may in truth never really know the mind of Gabby’s attacker. But this does not mean we cannot find purpose in the aftershocks of the attack. My other prayer is in today’s political arena, people remember that people who have opposing viewpoints are not the enemy, but the opposition, and to speak of them as such. For even if we cannot ever make sense of tragedy, maybe it can at least inspire us to act in more holy ways and to treat each other just a little bit better.

May the memory of all those who died including Christina Taylor Green, Chief Judge John Roll of the U.S. District Court for Arizona; Gabe Zimmerman, a Giffords staffer who was engaged to be married; Dorwin Stoddard, who was fatally shot in the head while trying to shield his wife; Dorothy Morris; and Phyllis Scheck, all be for a blessing. May God grant strength to the sorrowing families and to the twelve survivors, some of whom are still fighting for their lives as well. Amen.