Immediately upon returning from our community's Yom HaShoah commemoration tonight, I was greeted by the news that Osama Bin Laden, Yemach Shemo veZichro/May His Name and Memory Be Erased, had been killed by U.S. forces in a mansion outside the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. From the immobility of being a Jew confronting the Shoah, the worst disaster our People has ever endured, I was shocked into the confusion of once again being the New Yorker I was nearly ten years ago, in shock, afraid, and helpless to do anything in the face of the worst assault on the United States in its history.
Which emotion is the right one? Is there a "right" one? Can there be only one in a moment like this, when we remember as Jews our 6 million during the Holocaust and we remember as Americans the almost 3,000 people killed on September 11, 2001. How do we respond when the architect of enormous evil is brought to justice? What does it mean for us, as Jews, and as Americans, that Osama Bin Laden has been killed?
According to a Midrash, when the angels rejoiced at the victory of God and the deliverance of the Children of Israel at the Red Sea, they invited God to join their celebration. God declined, saying, "How can I rejoice when my children are drowning?" God's response, as intuited by our tradition, teaches us that the very people who enslaved and tortured us were still human beings when viewed through sacred eyes.
But a human being, an irrevocable Divine Image, is not immune from Justice. When the trial of Adolph Eichmann, which lasted off and on from April of 1961 to May of 1962, ended with Eichmann's execution, Rabbi Martin Cohen remembers being told by his father that "the entire Jewish people was having a party that day." Rabbi Cohen goes on to say, "I'm not sure I knew what he meant. Maybe I did. Probably not."
I'm not sure what I mean right now. I'm relieved that an evil has been eliminated from the world. I'm mourning our lost Six Million. I'm watching the crowds on Pennsylvania Ave and Ground Zero, weeping at all that happened and is forever changed, aching for some healing and some small amount of hope. I'm still hearing the testimony from a Shoa survivor shared less than three hours ago echoing in my heart, proud to have joined as a large Berkeley Jewish community to bear witness to our collective pain. I'm lost right now. That's all I think I can mean at the moment.
We do not rejoice at the death of our enemy. The implementation of justice is not a joyful celebration. As Rabbi Cohen writes of watching the recording of Eichmann's trial, "In this man's eyes are reflected the ghosts of his uncountable victims...and also nothing at all." I am riveted by the face of Bin Laden. I do not want to look into his eyes. Those eyes witnessed the snuffing out of so much life; those eyes remained willfully blind to the pain and loss he caused. I believe justice has indeed been served today. Joylessly, as is appropriate.
May America know a measure of comfort after these almost 10 years, and may we redouble our efforts to rebuild our Nation in a more unified way, knowing that this incredible pain has been felt by members of every political persuasion.
May the Jewish People bear testimony to the attempted Destruction of our People by redoubling our commitment to building and supporting our Jewish communities, knowing that every moment of Jewish Living is the ultimate legacy of those who died Al Kiddush haShem, for the Sanctification of God's Name.
May our vulnerable world sleep a little easier tonight.