MONDAY, MAY 2, 2011
Reflections on the death of Bin Laden on Yom HaShoah
Last night, like most of us, my family and I were transfixed by the scenes playing out on our TV screens. The celebrations that were taking place outside of the White House, at Times Square, at Ground Zero and throughout the world following confirmation by President Obama that Osama Bin Laden had been killed were spellbinding. It was as if a cloud had been lifted from our national consciousness. The jubilation and spontaneous demonstrations of national pride that these (mostly young) revelers were displaying was both wonderful and disconcerting. Chants of "U.S.A!!! U.S.A!!!" filled the air and reporters were interviewing survivors of the 9-11 rescue operations that are indelibly linked into our consciousness.
At last, we had some positive news in the war on terror. American commandos had broken through the seemingly impenetrable wall of invincibility that Al Qaeda had created. The mass murderer of thousands had finally been eliminated.
And yet, waking up this morning, however, I don't feel too much like celebrating. Bin Laden died a violent death. He deserved to die. But while I am relieved that Bin Laden no longer poses a threat, I have no illusions that his death will put an end to terror. On the contrary, most of us are bracing ourselves for the inevitable reaction of Al-Qaeda and the myriad of terrorist offshoots that it has spawned.
In addition, the image of celebrating the death of another human being – no matter how evil he may have been – doesn't fit my image of the highest ideals for which we, as a nation, stand. In the book of Proverbs 24:17 we find the following: "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles."
My son, Ethan, beautifully captured this duality of feeling in his Facebook status when he wrote:
"Regardless of how despicable or evil an individual might be, we as Americans never celebrate the death of another. We instead celebrate the end to an era of fear and terror. We celebrate the individuals who keep us safe from those who want to harm us. Most importantly, we celebrate the universal ideals of freedom and justice."
The fact that Bin-Laden was killed on Yom Ha-Shoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) and on the anniversary of the death of Adolph Hitler was not lost to many of us. Yesterday afternoon, I participated in a somber commemoration at the JCC where three generations of survivors spoke about their lives and experiences. Each person spoke of how the Shoah colored their worldview –but not one spoke of revenge. Instead, the message was one of healing – of seeking beauty in a world that was all too often filled with ugliness.
This morning, the world is a different place than it was last night – not because a terrorist has been killed – but, rather, because we have been given an opportunity to heal. One man's death, however justified, will not bring back the thousands upon thousands who have died due to hatred. Perhaps we can utilize this moment to concentrate on bringing Shalom: peace and wholeness to a world that is incomplete.
Monday, May 2, 2011
I'm still reflecting on last nights revelations of the death of Osama Bin Laden. On the one hand, I feel immense gratitude. On the other hand, the sight of people cheering and celebrating his death much as people in the Arab world cheered the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11th fills me with ambivalence. There's no joy for me in this; rather a sense of relief and a hope. I'm reminded of this past week's Torah portion, in Leviticus 19, where we're commanded neither to hold a grudge nor exact vengeance. This was, as the President said last night, the execution of justice, but it is a slippery slope downward. If this is, as Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday at Israel's Yom HaShoah commemoration (and that John Elzufon quoted in his remarks at our own commemoration), a war of civilization versus barbarism, then we must make sure that we do not succumb to their 9th century ideals and remain true to who we are in this fight.
Yesterday Moshe Landau, the judge who presided over the Eichmann trial, died at age 99. Every account of Eichmann's treatment, arrest and execution point to a justice system that wanted to make it clear that they were executing justice, not exacting vengeance (they even went so far as to make sure the prison guards were Sephardi--of Middle-Eastern descent--so they would feel no personal inclination to abuse or harm the prisoner). We would be well to remember that...
I've linked to and quoted Rabbi Joe Black's blog response as it's far more eloquent than anything I could write on the subject. You'll find both below.
Rabbi Joe Black: Reflections on the death of Bin Laden on Yom HaShoah