Camaraderie Out of Extremity – Gratitude in the Wake of the bin Laden Assassination

Last night, I was flying with my family back from Portland to Los Angeles. As we strapped ourselves into our seats and powered down our cell phones, a muffled voice came over the plane’s speaker system.

“This is your captain speaking,” said the voice. “Just wanted to let you all know that President Obama is speaking right now at the White House and they killed Osama bin Laden.” Cheers and applause erupted from the elated passengers – among them, a businessman dressed to the nines, a mom traveling with her young son and daughter, and an elderly bearded man dressed in traditional Sikh garb.

When I got home, I had several text messages and voice mail messages waiting on my phone. “GOD BLESS AMERICA,” said one. “Got ‘em!” said another. The social networks (Twitter and Facebook) flared up with similarly nationalistic sentiments: photos of American flags, videos of military marches, assertions of American exceptionalism. Then, at school today, students greeted the news with marked astonishment and awe and – though some were hesitant – many expressed euphoria at the assassination. The last time Americans acted in such patriotic accord was, in fact, in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001.

On September 12, 2001, in the wake of national tragedy, I went with my father to buy an American flag at a local banner store. When we got to the store, we were surprised to find ourselves at the back of a line that stretched around the block. Everyone wanted to buy a flag. Everyone wanted to prove that he or she was a piece of the American puzzle.

And today, as the dust finally settles, camaraderie has returned. Even in the heat of the most vitriolic and polarizing climate in modern political history, Americans seem to be united again around one cause – one ideal. It is evident to me that in times of extremity – and, all too often, only in such times – people collaborate. When two students feel helpless before their history test, they may come together to study. When two companies are faltering on the brink of collapse, they may merge. So too, when Americans feel overcome by mourning, or overjoyed with pride, something magnificent happens.

Tomorrow, of course, we’ll all return to our bickering; Democrats will be Democrats, Republicans will be Republicans, we will be we, and they will be they. But today, as we witness the power of mutual loyalty, I am grateful to live in a country whose citizens sometimes – everyone once in a while – find allies in one another.

This is Truth Be Told’s 100th post.

The Blame Game – Why Finger-pointing is Inappropriate in Tucson’s Immediate Aftermath

An opaque fog still shrouds the entire affair, but in the aftermath of Tucson, the fingers are already pointing.

A valuable quality during times like this these — days and weeks that follow events that we wish we could do away with entirely — is the conscious decision to be understated. In a loquacious world, silences are often more effective and meaningful than any amount of words could be. Silence and understatement are steeped in wisdom and patience. They testify to the notions that impulsive fury and knee-jerk conclusions are dangerous waters to wade into — even in times of extremity.

But we live in a society whose mouth never shuts, whose attention span is minimal, and whose decisions are rash. The lights that emanate from our laptops and BlackBerrys keep us awake even when we’re asleep. The news cycle is stuck on repeat and the talking heads never stop talking. We use our voices far more often than we use our ears. There is very little about American life that is understated. It seems as though each of us feels a little bit more passionately about issue x than the next guy; each of us is just a little more correct, a little more informed than the next guy. When it rains, it pours.

This is a time to be understated.

What transpired in the Tucson Safeway on Saturday morning was a calamity. It takes a vitriol beyond evil to lift a lethal weapon to the face of another human being. It takes a vitriol beyond evil to look life square in the eyes with the sole intention of ending it. It takes a vitriol beyond evil to be able to bring oneself to pull the trigger and spray a barrage of bullets at an open, innocent, youthful, human crowd. And for that, in these fleeting moments that come on Saturday’s tail, we can’t blame a website. We can’t blame an ad. We can’t blame a politician and we can’t blame a party. We can’t blame a movement and we can’t blame an ideology.

Civil discourse is depleting and the level of hostility in the political arena is high. Elements of each of these entities could have been factors in the shooting’s equation. But none of them is to be blamed for the assassination attempt of a member of our legislature or the murder of Dory Stoddard, Dorothy Murray, Gabe Zimmerman, Phyllis Scheck, John Roll, and Christina Taylor Greene. The blame game isn’t constructive. America needs to take a deep breath, unclench its fists, and put its pointer fingers down; for there is not fairer judge than time. And time will exert its wrath upon the perpetrator of this egregious act. In this noisy world, it isn’t quick conclusions that bring about justice. It is silence — to listen — and scrutiny — to find — that guide us along the right path.

Send it to the Nine

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a large mosque and Islamic community center three blocks away from Ground Zero– the site of 9/11. The proposal has several high-profile proponents (such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg) in addition to its noteworthy opponents (such as the Anti-Defamation League). The ADL put out a statement a couple of weeks ago which said that New York City “would be better served if an alternative location could be found.” The statement from the organization asserted that it is “not right” to do something that will cause the victims’ families pain or discomfort.

This is an ostensibly multifaceted situation. It seems to have many layers and levels, and it does. But once we move beyond the rhetoric and debate, there is a very simple answer. Right-wingers like Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani have come out against the proposal and expressed that, while it’s the PC thing to do, it’s completely inappropriate, offensive, and dishonorable. Newt Gingrich proclaimed on his website, in no uncertain terms, that this mosque should not be built because “America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization.” The Tea-Partiers are all up in arms over this also. The American political right is entirely opposed the mosque being built. Why is this so interesting? Because this means that the same people who spend so much of their time fighting for their rights granted to them by the Second Amendment of the constitution have forgotten entirely about that amendment’s predecessor.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It’s not a matter of being the right or wrong thing to do.

Maybe it’s insensitive. Maybe they could find other places to put it. Maybe someone will get offended. But Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, allowing for the mosque to be built is not only the PC thing to do, it’s the legal thing to do. In a society that is so tangibly affected by our country’s constitution, there is a definitive answer to this question. Regardless of the pompous, philosophical debate over this issue, the answer is short and simple: yes, the constitution says so. Perhaps this is one for the Nine.

Pick-and-choose is not an option.


Last night, I returned from a seven-week trip that changed the way I look at the world on a political level, but also on a sociological and religious level.

In the coming days, I’ll take a short hiatus from narrating on politics and, instead, share some journal entires and thoughts that I wrote while I was in Poland. I’ll also explain the changes in my political ideologies– why being in Israel caused me to move further right or further left on certain issues.

The most important realization I had, however– the thing that kept me open to so many other opinions– is that the world isn’t drawn in black and white. It’s important not to incarcerate yourself in any political or religious box. While I was in Israel, I heard people say things that made me want to punch them. I also heard people say things that made me want to hug them. But regardless of what the opinion was, I learned that I had to keep everything in context: there’s a reason that the man living on the Lebanese border is so right-wing. There’s a reason that the Palestinian man who has been neglected all his life is so left-wing. You have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes– really understand where they’re coming from– before you argue with them (or decide whether or not it’s a good idea to argue with them).

This past Friday, on the corner of Gaza Street in Jerusalem, I met Noam Shalit, the father of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. In an uncomfortable effort to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime moment, I hesitantly walked up to him and asked–perhaps naïvely–what it is that we, Jewish American youth, can do to help his son’s situation.

Noam Shalit turned to me, his furrowed brow frozen in a frown than seemed to encapsulate his whole body, and very slowly shook his head. “Nothing,” he said, almost in a whisper, “thank you for your support.”

Americans tend to have strong opinions about things that we think we understand. And then we make a big ruckus about joining a cause, sell bracelets, ask people to donate money, and the list goes on. Sometimes, however, nothing can be done. My brief encounter with Noam Shalit was a wakeup call; not to the idea that we can’t do anything, but rather to the idea that if we’re going to get ourselves involved and invest time and effort, we should know the realities of the situation and avoid the precarious and all too familiar belief that we are invincible. Because we’re not.

There’s one other experience that should be shared before I write future posts. Last week, early Tuesday morning, my group was hiking up a mountain just outside of Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city. As we were climbing up the final stretch, right when we began to be able to see the Red Sea and the peak where we were going to pray Shacharit (the morning service) we heard a very loud “BOOM,” that sounded like planks being thrown thrown into a dumpster at a construction site. We kept walking. a few seconds later we heard another one. We asked our staff what the noises were and they assured us that it was nothing…that the IDF does special trial runs in the desert all the time and that we shouldn’t worry.

The “BOOM”s that we heard were not planks from a construction project in Eilat. They were two of five rockets that were fired from the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula with the intention of hitting the Eilat area. They were fired with the intention of hitting anything Jewish. They were fired to hit me.

So, next time you decide, like me, that the man who lives on the Lebanese border is crazy and unjustified (which I happen to partially believe), think about how your opinion might be changed if you were constantly under fire from enemy rockets. Think you might be angry?