Other Current Issues

Again!?

I write this blog with a heavy heart. On Saturday, April 27th, the last day of Passover, the day Jewish people say Yizkor, a prayer for family members who passed away, a gunman opened fire in the Chabad of Poway in San Diego, California. He killed one woman and injured three others.

This was only six months after a gunman went on a shooting spree in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Like many people, I keep asking, “Why? Why take the lives of innocent people and leave so many others traumatized? What goal could these crazed gunmen possibly be achieving?

And just like the Pittsburgh shooting, the world lost a very special individual.

Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, was attending the synagogue not only because it was the Sabbath and Passover, but also to recite Yizkor for her mother, who passed away in November. She was one of the founding members of the Chabad synagogue. Lisa Busalacchi, a friend of Kaye’s since they were in second grade, said that “. . . if someone were sick or someone died, she was the first one there with food or asking what she could do.” Another friend recalled when a member of the synagogue was diagnosed with breast cancer, Kaye drove her to every doctor’s appointment and helped care for her children. Witnesses say Kaye’s final heroic act was shielding Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein from the gunman’s bullets.

Still the gunman managed to shoot the rabbi, who was rushed to the hospital. Doctors operated on him but he ended up losing a finger.

There were other heroes in this shooting. Almog Peretz, 34, was injured while protecting Noya Dahan, his 8-year-old niece, and other children from the shooter. Dahan was also injured.

Oscar Stewart, 51, a construction worker who served in the Navy and Army, shouted at the gunman, who froze, dropped his gun, and ran away. Stewart chased him to his car and pounded on his car window. The gunman drove away but was later apprehended.

Jonathan Morales, an off-duty US Customs and Border Patrol agent, also chased the gunman to his car. He told Stewart to step away and began shooting at the car. Morales then went into his own car and continued shooting until he hit the gunman’s car.

The gunman was identified as 19-year-old John Earnest, a nursing student at Cal State University, San Marcos.  He grew up in a middle-class family near Poway, was an honors student, and an exceptional pianist. Earnest published a manifesto online shortly before the attack. It is eerily similar to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a famous antisemitic book in which Jews are accused, among other things, of controlling the media and the economy.

I think Oscar Stewart said it best when he told reporters that “If you’re ignorant and you don’t know what people are like, you don’t know that I’m a person just like you. I go to work every day in a manual labor job.  “. . . supposedly he said in his manifesto that the Jews control this and that—I don’t control anything. I go to work just like you every day. He didn’t know that.” He went on further to say, “The most important thing I want to share is that we need to know each other. If you make an opinion on anyone, you need to know what they’re about, and who they are. You can’t generalize and say every blue person is evil because they’re blue. That’s ridiculous.”

References

Joffre, T. (2019, April 28). Suspect’s Manifesto: Jews deserve hell and I will send them there. Retrieved from https://www.jpost.com.

Kamim, D. (2019, April 29). Poway Chabad Rabbi had asked Border Patrol Agent to pray armed-just in case. Retrieved from https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com.

Oster, M. (2019, April 28). Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, killed in Poway attack, shielded rabbi from bullets. Retrieved from https://www.jta.org

Stoltzfoos, R. (2019, April 28).  Combat Vet who stopped the Synagogue Shooter: “I scared the hell out of him.” Retrieved fromhttps://flipboard.com.

(2019, April 30). FBI says received vague tips ahead of deadly California synagogue shooting. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com.

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Pittsburgh

It is difficult to think and write about anything other than the shooting in the Pittsburgh synagogue. Whereas only a few years ago, we had to worry about violence from foreign countries, now the main concern is violence committed by our own citizens. The massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue is a tipping point for me personally because I know so many people in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh. All over the world, people go to houses of worship on their Sabbath to find peace, inspiration, and community; it is one of the last places one would expect a deranged individual to shoot people. I am certain I won’t be the only one who will be preoccupied with this massacre the next time I attend a house of worship.

Theories abound as to why there is an escalation of violence in the United States.  I have no ready answers or solutions but want to instead eulogize the people that we lost in the shooting.

Cecil and David Rosenthal, aged 59 and 54, were brothers that lived near the synagogue and often helped out during the services and other activities in the building. Both had intellectual disabilities and were described as inseparable. Chris Schopf, vice president of residential supports for ACHIEVA, an agency that provides support for individuals with disabilities in Pennsylvania, said this about the Rosenthal brothers, “Most of all, they were kind, good people with a strong faith and respect for everyone around.”

Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, aged 66, was a doctor. People recalled when others were afraid of treating people with HIV, Dr. Rabinowitz would hold their hands without gloves. Always ready to help others, he ran out immediately when he heard gunshots. Family and patients describe him as loving, kind, and compassionate.

Richard Gottfried, 65, was a dentist and active in the congregation. He worked at the Squirrel Hill Medical Center with his wife, who is also a dentist. They were well-known for taking refugees and immigrants as patients.

Sylvan and Bernice Simon, aged 86 and 84, were married in the Tree of Life synagogue in 1956. They were a close couple who were often seen holding hands. People recalled them as being kind to everyone.

Irwin Younger, 69, was a small business owner and a kids’ baseball coach. He prayed and volunteered regularly at the synagogue. Irwin was always anxious to make newcomers feel welcomed.

Melvin Wax, 88, was a retired accountant. He always arrived early for services and often led the congregation in the prayers.

Rose Mallinger, 97, was active in the Tree of Life synagogue for six decades. She attended services every weekend and people recalled her humor and intelligence. She was warm and loving and never complained about anything.

Daniel Stein, 71, was retired and attended the synagogue every Saturday. A nephew described him as a great guy with a dry sense of humor.

Joyce Feinberg, 75, was a retired research specialist at the University of Pittsburgh.  Her late husband Stephen taught statistics at nearby Carnegie Mellon University. Joyce and her husband would welcome his students into their home.

These eleven people attending synagogue services had no connection with the gunman. As in all these acts of violence, we lose innocent people senselessly.

When will it stop?

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy, a thriller that covers the issues of autism and the human trafficking crisis. 

Note: From now until November 24th, True Mercy is on sale at Smashwords for only 99 cents! Log onto https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/747954 and enter the coupon code EA37K.

 

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Thai Cave Rescue: Finally, News to Inspire

Photographer: Adam Sherez

I have a voracious appetite for keeping up with the news, but after days of reading or watching TV following Meghan Markle breaking royal protocol by crossing her legs at public events and the continual mud-slinging of the country’s politicians, it was refreshing to read about the dramatic rescue of the 12 boys and their 25-year-old soccer coach who were trapped in a cave for over two weeks in Thailand.

Like most people, I read the articles and watched the news with growing trepidation about their chances of rescue after being trapped while under threat from heavy rains flooding the cave and their dependence on oxygen tanks. The soccer team was exploring a cave after soccer practice, and since it was rainy season in Thailand, a downpour flooded the tunnels and they became trapped. Oxygen tanks and food and water were brought down while rescue crews worked tirelessly to keep them alive while planning their rescue.

A few days ago a former Thai navy diver died while attempting to bring oxygen supplies down to the cave. Unfortunately, his own oxygen supply ran out. At that point their fate looked bleak.

But on Tuesday, while reading about which NBA players were likely going to stay on their teams and which may be traded and Kim Kardashian’s little daughter North West making her fashion debut, I was happy and relieved to find out that all thirteen young men were rescued. And even more heartwarming, it was an international effort—divers and other help came from Britain, the US, Australia, and Israel along with the Thai Navy SEALS.

While I don’t wish for anyone to be in danger and in need of rescue, it was certainly a story of substance and encouragement. Apparently, others thought so as well. A Hollywood movie producer and a major publisher have expressed interest in bringing their story to the public.

Clearly, this was a news item that touched our spirits and gave us the inspiration we all crave.

RIP Saman Kunan, a former Thai Navy seal, who passed away in his valiant attempt to rescue the boys.

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The Suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have to admit I don’t understand. Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two people who have reached the pinnacle of their professions, rising above the crushing competition of people clawing to get ahead, having all the money they need and more, commit suicide.

Most people struggle to stand out in their careers, come up with the money to pay their bills and hopefully put aside enough for enjoyment while they keep dreaming of a better life. And they don’t commit suicide.

In my novel True Mercy, I wrote of young women going through the nightmare of being tricked into sex slavery. Every moment is a horror. Another subject in my novel is the stresses and challenges of taking care of a loved one with autism, where the individual’s moods and behaviors are unpredictable. Caregivers often get frazzled and are in desperate need of respite. To my knowledge, neither Kate Spade nor Anthony Bourdain experienced challenges such as these.

Spade rose to be a world-renown fashion icon famous for her prized signature handbags. Bourdain was an author and chef who traveled the world telling stories and sampling each culture’s cuisine on his award-winning television show. Needless to say, they could live wherever they wanted, command respect for their talents and accomplishments, and live the lives most of us only fantasize about.

Each one had a young child. Part of being a parent is living to protect and take care of your children. No matter how bad things get the instinct of a parent is to be there for their child. After all, if a parent is not watching over them, who will?

I remain dumbfounded by these suicides. They had everything to live for, what the vast majority of us strive for every day. They rose above the everyday concerns most of us have. I suppose the only way to understand what was wrong would be to find out what was going on in their heads. But it’s too late for that. So we are left scratching our own heads.

The only conclusion I can come up with comes from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible:

“that God sometimes grants a man riches, property, and wealth, so that he does not want for anything his appetite may crave, but God does not permit him to enjoy it; instead, a stranger will enjoy it. That is futility and a grievous ill.”

Ecclesiastes 6:2

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The Florida School Shooting Tragedy: Some Thoughts

(Photo by Nicole De Khors)

May the souls of those who perished rest in peace.

The nation is once again reeling after the recent high school Florida shooting tragedy which left seventeen people dead. In the aftermath come the questions: why did this happen? How do we prevent this from happening again? Theories abound: banning guns, more security in schools, make mental health care more widespread and accessible, etc.

All of these measures have merit: Enforce tougher background checks for those who want to buy a gun, increase security in the schools and provide more counseling and resources for those who are troubled and going through a rough patch in their lives. But there is one I would like to discuss in this article, which is to reduce the amount of violence in the media.

When I watch television, I am frequently repulsed by commercials for upcoming movies. Actors are constantly shooting at each other. I once joked to my family that if these brave, macho actors were dealing with these situations in real life, instead of fighting, they would be running for their lives. What happens is people get desensitized to violence—after all, they see it in the movies, on television shows, the news, books, video games, sports, etc.

And who are the most impressionable? Young people. They grow up immersed in this violent culture and some become convinced it is the only way the world will pay any attention to them.

Out of this tragedy came many heroes, people who showed tremendous bravery and even sacrificed their lives to protect others, but I am sure everyone would agree that it would be much better if these school shootings could be prevented in the first place.

Much work has to be done. Unstable people should not be allowed to buy guns, counseling should be available for all, every student has the right to be safe in school and the media has to stop its glorification of violence.

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