Tuesday, October 30, 2018


Image result for rabinowitz jerry mdI've never known a terror victim before, or even somebody murdered on the street.  Along the way patients, mostly minorities from the cities, have related a child or other relative who had been murdered, though I never knew one personally.  Shootings are common, appearing in the news pretty much every day.  Terrorist explosions have become all too common.  But those are other people with names, with families, but known personally to other people.

An old friend from college, however, became the first for me, a victim of a mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue where he attened Dor Hadash, a Reconstructionist congregation that rented space in the building.  I suspected it might be him as soon as the names with ages were released the day after the assault, confirmed within an hour or two.  Jerry Rabinowitz, UPenn C'73/M'77 had been my friend in college for four years.  We served together on the freshman rowing team, both as coxswains, he departing wisely at mid-year when the coach had a hissy-fit and made us all run beyond our reasonable capacity.  Jerry went on to excel at his studies, gaining admission to UPenn medical school and then settling in Pittsburgh as a primary care physician.  I would learn from the tributes and more formal obituaries that he got in on the ground floor of managing AIDS, being among the first to introduce anti-retroviral medicine as it became available to those with low CD4 counts.  We lost contact, and when the photographs appeared in public media, I probably would not have recognized him in a social situation but the identity would click in a minute or two with name tags at a UPenn event.  I remember Jerry as kindly and maybe somewhat direct in our conversations.  I do not recall him going to shul or having a girlfriend.  I cannot even remember for sure his major, though I think it was biochemistry as we shared classes into our junior or maybe even senior years.

Forty years of separation can be reconnected up to a point in an obituary.  He had only been married 21 years, he served as a pillar of the Reconstructive synagogue that rented space where the massacre occurred during shabbat morning worship.  In doctor fashion, his first inclination was to attend to the wounded in his presence.  His mother and his in-laws survive, though he had no children.  Some relatives, likely on his wife's side, had made Aliyah with many characteristic Israeli names among the survivors. 

For a while, I considered driving to Pittsburgh for the funeral.  That was not to be, as I had a deadline project that would delay travel and unknown to me, the funeral took place this morning, the first set of funerals for four of the eleven murdered.  I just could not have gotten there.

Does knowing a victim change how a mass murder of this type registers?  I do not know yet.  There is the function brain part of me that is well aware of targeting of Jews through history, whether by spontaneous pogroms, pre-meditated Holocausts or inquisitions, assassinations targeting individuals, or terror attacks where randomness that creates a who's next is integral to the plan.  The hatred that drives this is never rational, but there is usually an agenda from not allowing Jews who Islamists regard as dhimis from owning land to diffusing perceived economic power, to keeping the Church free of non-believers.  While murder usually gets condemnation, at least in America, the underlying desire to identify an external target to avenge one's social travails, often does not.  That's where we seem to be now.  Prosecution of perpetrators does not stop this.  Elections sometimes do.  We have an opportunity for this in just a couple of weeks.  My friend Jerry's shooting was random, but indirectly enabled.  It has to be disabled and I am optimistic that enough people will have connected to this to make for a return to some of the decency that America's electoral leadership has not seen as important enough to protect.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

If I am Not for Myself

One of my twelve initiatives for this half of the calendar year has been to read or listen to three books, a self-driven task brought to completion a few days back when I concluded Herman Wouk's The Hope, an historical about the early conflicts of Eretz Yisrael that brought the relative security that we have had the past forty or so years.  Unlike Torah, where you read again what you just finished, my custom has been to read something else, typically something that I cite from time to time but never actually read.  So I went to the public library and extracted from the shelf Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone which I started reading last evening.

From the onset, book now in its Chai anniversary since publication, has evoked some divided opinion, but basically he traces the decline of people banding together either to solidify common interests in an exclusionary way or to broaden common interests in an inclusive way.  Having just returned from Venice which has basically a skeletal Jewish presence but preserved synagogues and museums, I quipped to our Rabbi that our shul is like that, nice building about to be sold to a church leaving us essentially homeless, but mostly schvok on people.  We are hardly historical so no reason for the curious to scatter through our vacant rooms.  And once we vacate the building, we will have only people and a quick surge in our bank account balance.  This may be the optimal time to look to the future, maybe even hire and independent consultant, and not a Jewish.

For me, one of a few hundred "for me's", it may be time for a break.  I was not at all involved in this process, received no invitations to do anything off the bimah, and for the most part treated more like a spectator than a resource.  There are some things where I like being a spectator.  Football with two teams that I have no reason to root for.  If you root for one you become a communal participant.  The political world.  Even though I vote, it's effect on outcome is minimal.  I've offered my talent and energy to the Democrats from time to time but they are pretty self-absorbed, which may be why they underperform despite an ideology that would bring a better public outcome.

No, the time for a Me Month has come.  No AKSE.  Maybe a bus trip to NYC.  Thanksgiving.  Finish Bowling Alone.

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