When national tragedy, such as the Boston Marathon bombing, strikes, what do we do? It might be understood if at least some people not immediately affected tried to drown out the news coverage by listening to music or watch TV. Indeed, in the aftermath of the bombing on Monday, hundreds of thousands did turn to a television personality for support. It wasn’t a news anchor, and it wasn’t a sports celebrity. It wasn’t an actor from a fictitious show, although the person people turned to for support is no longer alive. That person is Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. So much of his wisdom is preserved in multiple media, and it is so timeless. The quotation of Mister Rogers that went viral on the Internet this week is the following:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.”
I grew up watching Mister Rogers. Despite the fact that videos of his are widely available on YouTube, from time to time I feel a sense of great personal loss that he is not a presence in the lives of my children like he was for me when I was a youngster. This week actually was the second time in recent months that Mister Rogers’ wisdom on national tragedies went viral. The previous time was in the aftermath of Newtown. Unfortunately, senseless violence struck innocent Americans once again, this time in the heart of a great city during one of the great rites of spring in American culture, the Boston Marathon.
On the surface, there is an eerie contrast between the news of this week and our Torah portion of the week, Aharei Mot-Kedoshim. We are in the heart of Leviticus’ Holiness Code. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (19:1), we learn in the text. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart (16) and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” almost seem to mock us in the face of the terrorists’ hatred for civilization that has sewn so much pain. Indeed, it is horrifying to witness such utter hatred and blatant disregard for the “Golden Rule.” At the same time, the wisdom of Mister Rogers rings so true. It is inspiring to see how people in the face of tragedy respond to perform acts of kindness and healing. Exhausted runners having just run more than 26 miles ran a bit more to tend to the wounded. Bostonians opened up their homes to tourists or suburbanites who couldn’t leave the city. The Mayor of Boston left his own hospital bed to tend to his shocked city.
Michael Oren, Israel’s eloquent Ambassador to the United States, issued a touching statement of support that is borne out of Israel’s much too deep experience with terrorist attacks. Here is his his message:
“The purpose of terror is to terrorize. Though questions remain about those responsible for the attack, the horrendous bombing attack on the Boston Marathon sought to instill paralyzing fear, inflict debilitating trauma and force us to forfeit our freedom. We cannot let terror win.
“We — Americans and Israelis — live in open societies that enable us to celebrate our freedom. Whether in arts festivals, sporting events, craft fairs or merely playing with our kids in the park, we are upholding those liberties in the face of those seeking to deny them.
“At the same time, we know that our freedoms must be defended, sometimes by men and women in uniform but most poignantly by people refusing to succumb to fear. We beat terror by refusing to submit.
“The people of Boston, who on the day of the bombing were celebrating liberty’s birthday, will not submit. Our experience in Israel has taught us that communities and caregivers, police and security forces, elected leaders and volunteers can unite at such times and block the terrorists from achieving their objectives. While taking all possible measures to prevent further loss of life, we adamantly refuse to forfeit our way of life.
“Anyone who has suffered the agony of terror knows the pain of the victims and their families as well as the radius of the emotional damage inflicted on countless citizens. We know that at such times, communities can band together and help bind the psychological and physical wounds. When first responders rush through the smoke, risking their own lives to assist the fallen, the healing process begins.
“And the people of Boston will heal. Still, the democratic liberties that Americans and Israelis enjoy cannot be taken for granted. American security forces and policy-makers face complex challenges. We must appreciate their successes in thwarting many attacks. We will continue to embrace freedom, but we will remain vigilant and resolute.
“This attack in Boston reminds us of both the worst and best in humanity. In an act of terror, those responsible destroyed and forever altered the lives of hundreds of people. But, stories of the heroic first responders, the athletes who ran to the hospital to donate blood and the countless other acts of selflessness remind us of the American spirit and its capacity to overcome terror and emerge stronger.
“We comfort the bereaved, tend to the hurt and take all precautions. We remember the victims but, standing together, refuse to be victimized.”
In closing, we mourn the loss of life this week in Boston and express solidarity with the people of Boston who have endured (and continue to endure) great trauma. Moreover, let’s take Mister Rogers’ advice to heart. When the chips are down, keep an eye on the helpers. When the world seems chaotic and falling apart, let us join the helpers in bringing healing and loving kindness into the world.