I received many thoughtful emails regarding my post on speaking Christianity. One asked what a Jewish response to Newtown might be. There was, of course, one Jewish boy, six-year-old Noah Panzer (alav hashalom) murdered in that slaughter, and I don’t know what his rabbi said to his parents or to the community. I don’t plan to address that. Instead I want to respond from a broader base, one that might highlight a difference between Judaism and Christianity.
Christianity and Judaism share a common theme.
Centuries before King Herod’s efforts to find and murder the newborn King of the Jews, Pharaoh sought to do the same to Moses. Jewish tradition tells us that, like Herod, Pharaoh too was warned that a liberator was about to be born among the Hebrews, and his mass slaughter of all newborn Hebrew boys was an effort to kill this would-be savior.
Both Moses and Jesus survive to confront their respective versions of the domination system: the ruling plutocrats who control others through violence and intimidation, strip people of life, liberty, dignity, and property, and mask their evil in the name of good, claiming that God wills it, and worshipping Pharaohs and Caesars as divine.
But here our stories diverge: Jesus dies at the hands of evil. Moses does not. The victory of Jesus is his resurrection, not the overthrow of Rome. The resurrected Jesus leaves Rome intact. Jesus’ kingdom is no longer of this world, and Christianity turns toward the afterlife for justice and vindication. Any hope that the followers of Jesus would overthrow the domination system ends when they become the Holy Roman Empire, and find themselves perpetuating domination in the name of the very one who died opposing it.
Moses, on the other hand, led his people (Hebrews and the Gentile mixed multitude) out of the domination system into the wilderness and ultimately into Canaan where his God had commanded him to establish a new world order based on distributive justice and compassion for the poor and powerless. Of course as any ancient Canaanite or contemporary Palestinian will tell you, Moses’ people have yet to achieve God’s ideal, but at least they are called to try.
Where Christians are called to find hope in the midst of horror, Jews are called upon to be that hope. Where faith in the Christ Child is faith in a new world sometime in the future; trust in Moses is trust in our capacity to create that new world today.
So what is a Jewish message to the people of Newtown? First, grieve. In Judaism we have a powerful system of grieving. We begin with a week of intense mourning, followed by a month of testing our capacity to return to life even as the tug of the dead pulls at us. Then we have eleven months of slowly making peace with our new reality, never forgetting the dead but turning our attention back to the living, and life itself. And then, on the anniversary of the death, we memorialize our dead, and remember them for a blessing.
So I would say to the people of Newtown to first grieve without restraint. Shut the town down (figuratively if not literally) for a “week” (however they define this time). Then take the next eleven months to rethink what it is to be a town, to look at the evil embodied in our civic, corporate, media, and even religious lives. Look to where we are caught up in a domination system that demonizes the other and oppresses the powerless. Not statewide, not nationally, but locally. And work together to reinvent Newtown as a new town. To leave the world of Pharaohs and Herods, and the organizations that support them, and create something new: a new way to be a community based on distributive justice, compassion, and the dignity of every being.
And then to begin implement this dream as best they can, and in this way be a light unto the peoples of America.
The emails I am receiving urge me to trust God, and to have faith that God has a plan for Newtown. I don’t doubt this. I only suggest that the people of Newtown are the vehicle for God’s plan.
So I would say this: Don’t look to God to make this right. God is looking to you to make things right. Don’t wait for the NRA or Congress or the Connecticut state legislature to change, make the change yourselves. Take up your cross—the death of your children and their teachers—and leave the insanity of Herod and Pharaoh and the leaders of the domination system who masquerade as protectors of liberty, and transformation in your own town. Show us the way, because if you wait for us, you will wait forever.