Monday, August 10, 2009

Attack in Tel Aviv

Last Saturday night there was a terrible attack in Tel Aviv. It was not a terrorist attack or a strike by Palestinian militants. It was Jew to Jew—an attack by one Jewish person on a group of people. A masked man stormed into a basement and sprayed automatic gunfire into a crowd of people. Two were killed that evening, and 15 others wounded. Police still hunt for the man responsible for this horrifying act, an act of hatred and prejudice.

For the past week much of the media has been referring to this tragedy as happening in a club. This is true, but it is also misleading. When we hear of an event happening at 11 at night in a club, we think of a nightclub, especially when it comes to light that this was a GLBT club—a place for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender youth. It was not that kind of club. The shooting happened at the Agunah Tel Aviv Gay and Lesbian Association building. This masked man opened fire in a room where gay teenagers were holding a weekly support group. They were sitting with their counselor, with friends who understood them. Perhaps they spoke about the issues they faced as teenagers in a society whose rules are based on a stringent interpretation of their religion. Perhaps they were wondering how and when they would tell their families that they did not live under the assumptions that a heterosexual society puts on people. Instead of counsel and comfort, last Saturday evening they instead endured hate and violence.

Last Saturday night, Liz Trobish and Nir Katz were gunned down in a place they believe was safe. Liz was 17, Nir was 26. Nir was the counselor at the center, working to help others through what their families see as subversive lifestyles. It is scary to think of the teens who have to tell their parents that they have been hospitalized at the same moment they tell their parents that they are gay or lesbian. It is terribly painful to know that several of those parents have not yet visited their children in ICU because they are gay or lesbian.

This is not the first time such an attack has been executed against Israel’s GLBT community. In 2007 a bomb was planted at an entrance to a settlement with a note that said, “Sodomites Out.” A device was planted in an attempt to prevent people from attending the 2006 Israeli Pride Parade in Tel Aviv. In 2005 at the Pride Parade in Jerusalem, a man ran into a crowd brandishing a knife, wounding three parade-goers. Of all these hate crimes, the knife-wielder is the only one who has been caught.

Throughout the past week, Israel has heard loud condemnations from both sides of the issue. Knesset Member Nitzan Horowitz, Israel's only openly gay elected official, condemned the attack this past Sunday, saying:
This is undoubtedly the worst incident targeting the gay community in Israel. It
has the characteristics of a hate crime, of someone who attacked to blindly
strike out at every person on the spot...

The leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party decried the attack as well, stressing Judaism’s belief in the sanctity of human life. Last Saturday’s shooter ignored this sanctity in a blind display of hatred.

While it fills me with pride that so many Jewish leaders from all walks of our faith would speak out against this bloodshed, I am reminded that many of the criminals who perpetrate these acts of hatred do so inspired by guidance from “spiritual leaders.” Let me be clear: I do not blame any particular person or religious movement for the shooting last weekend. We don’t know who the shooter is. At the same time, I am suspicious when bombers leave signs like the 2007 “Sodomites Out”—a clear cut Biblical reference left at a settlement entrance next door to a far-right-wing yeshiva. But the police have no suspects for that one.

The Torah teaches us to pursue justice. It teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves. It teaches that all human beings are created in the image of the Divine. Pursuit of justice means we stand up for the orphan, the widow, the poor, and anyone whose voice is not being heard. When we combine that with love for our neighbor, it means when we see injustices heaped on our neighbors, we take it to heart because our loved ones are not being treated as if they are created in the image of God.

Earlier this week, the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism hosted a vigil in Washington, DC. Mark Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, made a statement asking that the Jewish community make a promise:
A promise to preach respect. A promise to seek justice, to speak for
righteousness, and to always, always demand equality. A promise to proclaim that
bigotry and hatred have no place in our society and that love and tolerance are
our cherished religious values. Values that cannot be compromised and cannot be
shaken. Values that do not falter in the face of violence and hate.

May the memories of Liz Tronbish and Nir Katz serve as constant reminders that our work in this world is not finished. We have much to do to fight against the hatred and violence enacted upon our neighbors. May God bring speedy healing to those still being treated in Tel Aviv hospitals, and may the families of the victims come to soon know peace.

Ken Yehi Ratzon.

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