The long view
Earlier this month, we read Shemot/Exodus, Chap. 15, which includes the Song of the Sea. It describes the Song as a core element in our people’s national/religious narrative of God’s redemption of Israel then and the continuing promise of redemption based on it. We find no mention of what happened at the Sea of Reeds from the Egyptian side. Yet, most historically important events produce differing narratives, explanations that reflect the world-view of opposing groups.
Such differing narratives were at play in the emotional response in the U.S. this month to the Tucson shootings. Writers for the Center/Left New York Times immediately connected the shooting to the climate of political hatred that they view as so destructive. Writers for Center/Right Wall Street Journal quickly rejected that analysis, pointing out that the shooter was/is nearly totally apolitical. By the end of the week, the Times had conceded that the “climate of hate” analysis was not relevant to the situation.
The “climate of hate” analysis is not relevant to the Tucson tragedy as far as the shooter himself is concerned, but we must not set the matter aside altogether. As a teacher of history — especially Holocaust history, including the quest for explanations, I can tell you that every historian dealing with Germany and its interwar politics, especially from 1918 to the rise of Nazism — every historian, no matter where they are on the political spectrum, no matter which factors they emphasize in their explanation of Nazism’s origins and political success — focuses on the mindset of “redemptive violence” needed to “purify the nation.” It is a theme repeated relentlessly in a propaganda campaign conducted in a setting of unprecedented political and economic upheaval which unsettled a broad array of groups in German society. Such propaganda preyed on people’s vulnerabilities, made them receptive to the Nazi accession to power, and conditioned them to acquiesce to and ultimately participate in genocide.
Considered in this light, American society needs to reflect on the nature of political discourse in a civil, domestic setting. Yes, there are different narratives. There are serious political differences of opinion, but mainstream political opponents — Republicans and Democrats — are not traitors, nor are they betrayers of the Constitution or subverters of America’s future.
This is not the Israelites versus the Egyptians at the Sea of Reeds. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. 43 years ago and the murders of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy are painfully vivid personal memories for many of us. We all, Left and Right, need to keep this in mind and shape our political attitudes and behavior appropriately as we struggle to fashion “a more perfect union.”
Rabbi Norman Patz
Temple Sholom of West Essex