This summer, our country and our community faced all-too familiar tragedy as we witnessed horrific mass shooting attacks in Gilroy, Calif., El Paso, and Dayton, Ohio.
We once again found ourselves feeling heartbroken, frustrated, and even helpless. Indeed, mass shootings shine a painful spotlight on deep-seated issues, including our country’s gun control policies and mental health care needs. Yet, while these issues must be addressed, there is still much we can do as individuals to counter the destructive forces of fear and hate.
As concerned community members, we are on the frontlines of fighting the social
isolation and radicalization that often become the building blocks of vengeful ideology. Study after study prove that people are happier and healthier when they feel part of an inclusive community. And yet, too many people are being lost to anonymous chatrooms and dark corners of the internet that breed hate while offering twisted versions of connection and purpose.
Therefore, our calling at this pivotal moment in our country’s history is to buck the trends. Rather than give into the many compelling forces that would have us lead hyper-individualized lives through our phones and computers, we must go out of our way to connect openly and honestly with those around us. Rather than tolerate hateful and divisive language, we must spread the values of love and human decency.
At The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, we are dedicated to the work of community building and helping more people feel connected to each other. This includes expanding the reach of Jewish life in Northern Virginia and investing in innovative ways to
engage the next generation of Jews across Greater Washington. In particular, we are focused on increasing opportunities for informal conversations about topics that often cause great divides and on reaching people who have traditionally felt left out. For my part, I am doing what I can to put myself in the room with people who hold diverse perspectives and hear from them directly about what Federation can do to change abstract ties into meaningful bonds.
I recently heard a story about a troubled young man in Lubbock, Texas, who was planning an attack on a local hotel. This would-be mass shooting was prevented when the man’s grandmother took the time to check in on him and get him to a hospital for treatment.
Not all of us are in the position to reach those at risk of being radicalized directly, but we are all capable of helping each other feel seen and cared for. While we cannot eradicate hate, we can work to strengthen the forces that have sustained us as humans for millennia: common bonds, a sense of belonging, a strong moral compass, and genuine concern for others.
At a time when the power of community and religious teachings are fading, we can be champions for both. We can build meaningful connections within our communities and draw on Jewish values to inform our quest to build a brighter future for ourselves and our country.
In the aftermath of this summer’s attacks, we learned that many of the victims died protecting their loved ones. May we follow their heroic example and continue fighting what is worst in us by bringing out what is best in us.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us, “In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” Now is the time to come together in hope and resolve, and commit to building an infrastructure of mutual respect, care, and understanding in memory of those we have lost.
Gil Preuss is CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington