Saturday, July 29, 2006

The War at Home

I lived in Seattle from 1979-1981. It was there that I began to take part in Jewish community life again, after losing much of my connection to Judaism in my late teenage years and early college years (reading Nietzsche didn't help - all that "death of God" stuff).

I went to a couple of seders organized by a progressive Jewish group named Kadima, which eventually became a chapter of New Jewish Agenda. Looking at their website it seems that they're now affiliated with the Reconstructionist movement; their concerns seem to be about the same as they were when I went to their events, including "a commitment to social, economic, gender, and racial justice, the eradication of anti-Semitism..., The survival of Israel as a Jewish nation based on its pursuit of democracy, pluralism, civil rights, equality, and a peaceful co-existence for all," and "Peace in the Middle East that includes the co-existence of an Israeli state and a Palestinian state."

I remember attending a several session class on the history and nature of anti-semitism; I also remember going to one of their rallies, which probably had something to do with Israel but I don't remember the issue. I think I also went to a Purim celebration that they organized - it was the first time I read the book of Esther, and I was shocked by the violence of the book. Another project of theirs now is the Middle East Peace Camp on which they collaborate with the Arab Center of Washington.

In Seattle I also joined a newly born synagogue (Tikvah Chadashah) and became its first female co-president. I remember going to services also at a Reform Synagogue named Beth Am, and being moved by the prayers. I was searching for meaning - my mother had been diagnosed with lung cancer in the summer of 1980, and I felt adrift. I started to believe in God again - just spontaneously, no sudden revelation - it made more sense than being an atheist or agnostic or wherever I had been wandering before.

I left Seattle in the summer of 1981, when it became clear that my mother's cancer was returning after radiation treatment, and it seemed likely that she did not have much longer to live. For a year or so after I left, I kept my subscription to the local Jewish newspaper, published by the Seattle Jewish Federation, to keep up on what was happening in Seattle. I only returned to visit a couple of times after that - I think the last time was in 1984. But I still have very fond memories of Seattle.

So it was a great shock when I heard on the news this morning that a Muslim American man had entered the offices of the Seattle Federation yesterday and started shooting randomly, killing one woman and injuring five more, including a pregnant woman. Pam Waechter was the woman who was killed, and the five other staff members were Cheryl Stumbo, Dayna Klein, Carol Goldman, Layla Bush and Christina Rexroad. Mrs. Waechter was a leader in the local Jewish community, most recently serving as director of the annual fundraising campaign for the Seattle Federation.

The man identified as the killer, Naveed Haq, grew up in Richland, and his father was one of the founders of Richland's Islamic Center. Haq apparently has a history of mental illness.

The attack came only a day after "the FBI had warned Jewish organizations nationwide to be on alert after Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon and al-Qaida's second in command urged that the war raging in the Middle East be carried to the U.S. However, the law-enforcement source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there is no evidence that Haq was involved with any group. 'He said he hates Israel,' said the source, who is part of the Seattle Joint Terrorism Task Force, which was called in to help investigate the shootings. David Gomez, the assistant special agent-in-charge of the Seattle FBI office, said there is 'nothing to indicate he is part of a larger organization....We believe he is a lone individual with antagonism toward this organization,' said Gomez." I certainly hope that the FBI is correct.

Reaction by one of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnists
"For every argument there is a gripe, a countergripe and a gripe to the countergripe. But pulling a semiautomatic trigger before the evening rush hour is not the answer. Violence never is. Whatever thread of intelligence might have been inside the shooter's mind has become forever lost in a tragic act of exceptional rage directed at Jews. If he had entered the building with an open mind -- instead of declaring open season -- he could have learned something.

The Jewish Federation has opened its doors to many, including me, so that we can better understand Israel's plight. I've sat in the very offices that Friday became a crime scene and listened to community leaders talk about foreign policy, a sincere hope for peace abroad and the challenges faced by Seattle's small but vibrant Jewish community. The gunman would have come to understand how central Israel is to Jewish life. He would have gained an appreciation for the diversity of Jewish opinion, inside the organization, across the city and the globe.

Instead, he arrived with closed heart and mind. One person is dead. Five people are injured. It is sad and infuriating and frightening to think that conflict in the Middle East can ruin peace of mind here at home. It doesn't matter if the target of a hate crime is a mosque, a synagogue or a community center. An attack on any such institution is an attack on anyone who believes in the freedoms of this country and importance of community. On a sunny Friday afternoon in Seattle, a man filled with hate attacked every one of us.

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