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After the Boston Marathon Bombing
April 20, 2013
© Rabbi Jack Moline

Thank you for your interest in my sermons. I hope you enjoy reading them. Please note that this material is under my copyright. You have my permission to forward it in its entirety, but not excerpted, as long as you include this disclaimer. I am sorry for these conditions, but they save me a lot of explaining on the other end! Jack Moline

My middle daughter is 27 years old. When she was 6, the JCC in Annandale was defaced by kids with spray paint. The necessary community rally was held, and the predictable bomb threat was phoned in. As we drove away from the evacuated facility, on the Beltway between Braddock Road and 395, my little girl suddenly burst into tears and cried, "Why would anybody want to hurt us?"

I had a carful of people and was traveling at 55 mph. I don't remember what I said, but I do remember my anger at the way her innocence was shattered that night.

You can see the trajectory of her outrage at people suffering in the paths she has followed in the intervening twenty years. Today, she is in the middle of a master's program in engineering and public policy at MIT. Her specialty is emergency management and disaster mitigation; she hopes one day to run FEMA.

On Monday, she and her friends took advantage of the Patriots Day holiday from classes and went to watch the marathon. They found a spot at mile 25. After the first slew of runners finished, they went to lunch and she went back to her lab. I am a grateful father, let me tell you.

On Tuesday she called us to say she had reread an article by Gene Weingarten from 2004. It was in the Washington Post Magazine, and it was called "Fear Itself." The article was about Weingarten's experiences revisiting places, especially modes of transportation, which had been successfully attacked by terrorists. He rode a commuter train in Spain. He flew from London to the United States over Lockerbie. And he rode buses in Jerusalem. Julia said she found it comforting and helpful. Wednesday morning, before I went to minyan, I read the article because she had sent me the link. It had an effect on me as well. I went to minyan and cried the whole time.

So I wrote to Gene Weingarten and told him, a little more briefly, about all this, and I said, "You are famously not religious and I make my living promoting what you actively disbelieve. A long time ago I promised myself never to say anything I didn't believe to be true, and I have discovered over the years that sometimes being a comfort to people means choosing words very carefully to deflect from the truth. But you have the genuine luxury of a forum to tell the truth as you see it, with no need to be pastoral in the process.... On Saturday morning, my congregation will want to hear some truth. And I realize that I am still struggling with my 6-year-old's question."

And then I asked, "Gene, can you help me?"

I got a terrific answer from him, which I will share with you. But as you know, the story did not end there.

On Thursday mornings I teach Judaism to aspiring Episcopal priests at the Virginia Theological Seminary. And they asked me about the bombings and if I had any insight. I told them the story about my daughter. And I said something like, "Jews have an almost cynical attitude toward this kind of violence. We are no less outraged, no less nervous, no less concerned about our loved ones. But we have come to expect it. We have a history that is filled with examples of people wanting to do us harm, and we have almost a genetic shrug when someone else takes their shot. Our history of suffering gives us the tiniest amount of control in uncontrolled situations. We feel it in our bones; Americans do not.

"Some Jews build a Jewish identity on that expectation. When they use the term `chosen people,' they believe it means `chosen to suffer.' They define themselves by those who seek to do us harm - they need to find Nazis and Jihadists and proselytizing Christians who want to take away our sense of self, or maybe even our very selves. I reject that attitude entirely. If being chosen means being perpetual victims, then I am going over to the other side."

And then, of course, came Thursday night. Having watched about half the 11:00 news, including sinkholes in Chicago and the Redskins' schedule, I had my finger on the remote to turn off the TV when a breaking news story was reported - a shooting on the MIT campus. For a very long eight minutes, we got no response to phone calls, email. G-chat, text messages or Facebook postings. Apparently, when the water is running as you do the dishes, you can't hear any of those things. She was fine. Everyone was just a little on edge. There was indeed a shooting on campus, but it had nothing to do with the bombings.

And then, of course, came Friday morning. The shooting involved the presumed perpetrators of the bombing, and it took place outside the student union at MIT, footsteps away from the building where my daughter's office is. She had been there unusually late into the evening but, I am grateful all over again, she was safe at home before anything happened.

And here we are today. And I can't do what we would like to do - point to people who hate the Jews and thereby give us that small amount of control in an uncontrolled situation. And it is simply disrespectful to those who have suffered directly from this violence to start posturing about other victims of terror and what Jews or Israelis or anyone else has experienced. My heart continues to thud with a sound I can hear over all the other noise around me as I think of my adult daughter in this zone of terror. And simultaneously, my heart is broken by the question my six-year-old asked me: why would anyone want to hurt us?

The explanations for these acts of terror are still murky, but mostly they don't matter. We all need to be more cautious, and we continue to escalate our frustration that our desire to live without looking over our shoulders is constantly being tested. There is plenty of evil in the world, and I pray only that we continue to be surprised and infuriated by it.

But Gene Weingarten offered me a response, and to him I am enormously grateful. It is, I believe, the truth. And I hasten to add that it is truth told by someone who has no stake in defending the goodness of God's creation, because he does not believe that God created this world. But it is an exceptional message of faith that I commend to you, even with the profanity that Gene used and I that I apologize for including in these words. It is an observation that demands a choice - a choice I think our tradition demands, but a choice that must be made by every individual, Jewish or not, religious or not, believer or not. Here's what he said:

"The Boston bombing was caused by two assholes. Look at the incredible heroism it engendered, across all groups of people; the hundreds whose first instinct was to help.

"The decent always outnumber the evil. Which is why evil will never win. "

He also told me I was free to say that God stacked it that way, and that he would not publicly correct me.

At every moment of your life, that choice is before you. Even when evil is manifest that choice is before you. Are you among the decent or the evil? Independent of the choice made by the guy in front of you or next to you or wearing a white baseball cap and carrying a duffel bag, you have to decide if you are among the decent or the evil.

The answer to the question that burst out of shattered innocence is just that: others may make the wrong choice, but you must never choose wrongly. When we hurt because others have chosen evil, we must choose good. When others have chosen death, we must choose life. When others have chosen a moment of angry notoriety, of spiteful violence, of sickening infamy - none of those ideas that a six year old understands, but you do -- when others have chosen to break a child's heart, we must choose to be the healers.

I can cast all of that wisdom in verses from the Torah and stories from the Talmud. But today is not about my scholarly expertise. It is about simple truth. And that's it. We have to be certain that the decent always outnumber the evil so that the evil will never win.

Thank you, Gene.

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