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FOCUS ON FAMILY L.A. shooting, nothing new for Jews, compels us to do good and ‘choose life

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 17 (JTA) — “I bet it’s a hate crime,” my son Jeremy, 10, said matter of factly, hours before Buford O’Neal Furrow’s identity and affiliation with the Aryan Nations supremacist group was reported by the media. He knew only that a gunman had opened fire inside the North Valley Jewish Community Center, where he had previously attended summer camp. At age 5, when my husband, Larry, and I first told him about the Nazis, as age appropriately as possible, he reacted differently. “Why would anyone hate the Jews?” he asked incredulously. In only five years, Jeremy has become wary, worldly and realistic. In the last few months alone, he heard about the June 18 arsonist attacks on three Sacramento synagogues and the July 4 weekend shooting spree in the Midwest by Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, which wounded six Orthodox Jews. A year ago, he watched my husband unfold a virulent piece of hate mail hidden in a box of frozen waffles and read about two Los Angeles-area synagogues defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti. Along with his three brothers, aged 15, 12 and 8, he has come to accept anti-Semitism and its often violent manifestations as a concomitant part of daily life. Similarly, he and his brothers have come to accept the full-time presence of uniformed security guards at the entrances to their respective Jewish day schools. “You can’t let these lunatics stop your life,” says Zack, 15. My husband agrees. “What can you do? Turn their schools into armed fortresses?” As an American family with the knowledge that more than 192 million privately owned firearms exist in the United States, according to gun control advocates, we have learned to live with random violence. As Jews, we have learned to practice danger-avoidance. “One should guard oneself against all things that are dangerous, because ‘regulations concerning health and life are made more stringent than ritual laws,’ ” the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law states. So my husband and I constantly try to gauge the actual risk of an activity separate from our own anxieties and media-fueled fears. But this is often a difficult call as we try to give our younger sons increased independence, which, ironically, is a prerequisite to their feeling self-confident. At what age can they stay home alone? See movies with their friends? Bicycle around the neighborhood? And when we grant them some measure of freedom, how tightly do we tether them electronically, with cell phones and pagers? And burden them psychologically with our own concerns? We also know, as Rabbi Harold Kushner so eloquently explains in his book, that “bad things happen to good people.” We just have to remind ourselves, and reassure our sons, that bad things happen infrequently and atypically. As Jews, we are commanded to seek justice. Psalms 34:15 and 37:27 tell us, “Depart from evil and do good.” In other words, we must not only abhor evil but also actively seek justice. In today’s world, doing good can take many forms — from advocating for stronger hate crime and gun control legislation to fighting for the underdog, the underprivileged and the undereducated. From supporting organizations that monitor terrorist and hate groups to comforting survivors and victims’ families, showing strength as a community. The Bible, in Deuteronomy 16:20, tells us, “Justice, only justice shall you pursue.” But anti-Semitism is nothing new. We have been fighting it for almost our entire history, from the time of our forefathers. And there is no Moses to lead us out of slavery or band of Maccabees to soundly defeat the Syrian-Greek enemies. No, modern anti-Semitism is less simplistic and more insidious. In the United States, anti-Semitism resides in hundreds of hate Web sites on the Internet. It hides in secret militias and in the deranged minds of heavily armed individuals who can attack arbitrarily, unsuspectingly and often irreversibly. But unlike Jews throughout history and throughout the rest of the world, we American Jews expect to be safe. Or at least we used to. Now, we lock our cars and our front doors, setting alarms for both. We willingly submit to metal detectors, viewing them as allies rather than inconveniences. We also monitor our radios and police scanners for potential danger when we hear the familiar whir of helicopters overhead and sirens screaming through the streets. But most importantly we carry out the biblical injunction, in Deuteronomy 30:19, to choose life. Just as the North Valley Jewish Community Center campers and preschoolers returned the day after the shooting, so we bravely, enthusiastically and sometimes tearfully trudge ahead. We prove again the words of the labor Zionist A. D Gordon, who said, “Life is stronger than any destruction of it.” Jane Ulman lives in Encino, Calif., with her husband and four sons.