Charleston & Our Progressive Predicament

On June 22nd while participating in a MSNBC panel discussion, Susannah Heschel said the following regarding the recent shooting in Charleston, SC :

So the focus has been on forgiveness and the evocation has been of Christ on the cross forgiving. But what about the Roman crucifiers? What about their repentance? In Judaism there is no repentance without restitution. I would like to know if the white churches in this country are hanging their heads in shame today. But y’know, shame isn’t enough because they can’t repent without restitution. When are we going to have reparations for slavery? For Jim Crow? For the new Jim Crow? Unless you give back there is no repentance for you. Repentance can’t even begin without the restitution.

Here Mrs. Heschel is telling the community to shift away from forgiveness – a solemn and challenging step in the process of healing and grieving, and instead focus primarily on payment. Only then can we move into repentance. Yes, we. All white people. I might comment that she is talking to a Christian church about Jewish beliefs but I’d like to begin by focusing in on this compensation that paves the way to repentance.

It is worth pointing out that less than 48 hours after the shooting, the Obama administration authorized the fast tracking of $29,000,000 to the families of those murdered. That figure is 10 times the amount given to families of the Aurora, CO shooting, 19 times the amount given to the families affected by the Sandy Hook shooting and three and a half times the amount given for the Boston bombing. The announcement regarding the payout for Sandy Hook victims came a calendar year after the shooting. The Aurora, Co announcement came seven months after the shooting. The Boston payout was announced nine months after the bombing. $29,000,000. That’s 3.2 million dollars per family – more than double the total amount allotted to the families in Sandy Hook. And where does this money come from? After the tragedy at Sandy Hook, there was a donation fund established that collected the millions of dollars to be dispursed to the families. During a town hall meeting a committee was established to parse out the donated money to the familes. The local community was deeply involved in this process which is the striking difference to Charleston. The funds were allocated by the Department of Justice and come from taxpayer money. Hmm.

Repentance can’t even begin without restitution.

Susannah Heschel is the daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972). Abraham was a professor of Jewish Ethics and Mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America from 1945-1972. He was deeply involved in anti-war Vietnam protests and felt that the escalation of the war in Vietnam was a display of moral callousness that plagued America. His rallying cry was, “Some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

Susannah’s own scholarship and worldview have some interesting roots to be sure. As I watch the video of her on MSNBC, the words of her father whisper to me, ‘all are responsible.” She has clearly taken the baton. Examining her own writings, we are able to see this clearly in her piece ‘Jewish Studies As Counterhistory’.

The first practicioners of Jewish studies saw the study of Judaism as not simply an addition to the general cirriculum but as a revision of that cirriculum, an effort to resist and even overthrow the standard portrayal of Western history. In the version would stand at the heart of the West would stand the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic literature, not classical Greek literature or the New Testament, and the history of Christian thought would be presented as a derivatory offshoot of Jewish ideas. Even modernity, with its claims to secularized scientific forms of knowledge and its insistance on tolerance and diversity, was to be understood as the product of Judaism, not Christianity.

Susannah goes on to discuss the ‘Privilege granted the Christian West’ that apparently prevailed at American universities and that ‘knowledge was viewed as a way to protect Christianity’s privileges. There’s that word again – privilege. It is this kind of thinking, all of this finger pointing that is so deeply embedded in her thinking. Fundamental changes are needed? I disagree. Also found in this piece are claims that the pen is ‘a metaphor for the penis’. She also claims that the study of Aristotle reveals the origins of ‘profound gender bias’.

When the story of male, white, Christian Western civilization is related, should not its cultural glories be tempered with evidence of its racism and misogyny?

I don’t think so. The story of every civilization, every people is composed of conquest, wrong-doing and grave error in addition to its successes. Indeed, over the centuries, we have seen genuine struggles for common rights that we now take for granted. We fought for these rights and won. Yet the fight continues and I’m not so sure it needs to. What does a financed protest group do when its goals are achieved? Do it’s members celebrate, say ‘well done’ and go about their lives? No. They move on to someting else. And there is always something else. Where does it end? When a woman buys tampons is she really funding her own opression by ‘the patriarchy’?  We have overcome tremendous obstacles in our scant history as a nation yet it saddens me to think that all of this has brought us to where we are now – to our current progressive predicament with folks like Susannah Heschel going on live television to tell us that all white people should be ashamed of themselves for the reprehensible actions of a single, disturbed young man.

In keeping with her line of thinking let’s turn our attention July 1st of this year. While walking with her father on Pier 14 in San Francisco, Kate Steinle was shot in the head and killed by five time felon and deportee Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez. The gun he used belonged to a federal agent. This sparked a national debate about sanctuary cities and illegal immigration. Sanchez had priviously been in custody in San Fransisco, however he was released by Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi. Sanchez had also served time in another U.S. prison. The fact that he managed to be processed and sent to a United States prison without being a citizen is certainly a matter worthy of a separate article. As of this writing, President Obama has not even called the parents of Kate Steinle to offer his sympathies, let alone sent any financial ‘restitution’ to her family.

I would like to hear Susannah Heschel’s thoughts regarding this tragedy. One might say, ‘Well, Charleston was a hate crime’ to which I ask how is the murder of Kate Steinle not a hate crime? There was absolutely no motive for her killing. None. Does Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez hate all white people? Does he hate all women? All white women? Shall we call for all Mexican citizens to hang their heads in shame? I’m again reminded of the words of Mrs. Heschel’s father – “Some are guilty but all are responsible.”

I respectfully disagree.

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