One week ago I was still in Israel; Tel Aviv to be exact, one of my favorite cities in the world. A place I always have felt safe (in a dozen visits) and enjoy strolling with friends, or alone, at any time of day or night. Almost every year I bring a couple friends to Israel who have never been. There’s no better way to breakthrough stereotypes than to see firsthand! We’ve all had these conversations before with people: “Is it safe ‘over-there?'” or “I’m so happy you’re back, it seems so dangerous there!” Yes, there is danger in Israel sometimes, but no, I always tell people, I don’t feel unsafe there. I honestly feel less safe in many parts of the U.S. – even downtown Minneapolis – I wouldn’t walk alone at night. I’ve had more than a couple friends mugged, one even beaten.
The day after I came home to Minneapolis from Tel Aviv, the news of that horrific terror attack spread across the world. Four lives lost and more injured. I told anyone who would listen that we need to condemn terrorism, wherever it is, whoever the target, whoever the culprit.
Terrorism in Israel tends to get a shoulder shrug I feel like in Europe and the United States: “Well, that’s the Mideast for you: Always fighting.” Of course because Israel is involved in perpetual conflict doesn’t make terrorism okay or less significant somehow.
Israel is certainly no stranger to terror and violence, and sadly we know there will not be a definitive peace anytime soon. I will however, continue to be an ambassador for Israel and bring friends there every year.
Fast forward merely a few days later and we have the mass shooting in Orlando early Sunday morning. What a stark reminder that, yeah, the U.S. is just as dangerous as anywhere, and maybe more so? We have a frightening regularity of mass shootings. This one, however, was the biggest. And targeted.
There have been so many thoughts and emotions, different experiences in the last 36 hours that have all made me look at and rethink a lot of things. Biking back from the gym today I was listening to a long discussion on MPR, and a sentence struck me. One of the individuals on the panel said [I’m paraphrasing] “we in the gay community are no strangers to violence and hatred…” As a Jew (yes, for those that don’t know I converted years ago), we can relate to these same words in the broader context of our history. I instantly thought of Tel Aviv last week. Those individuals were shot for being Jews, for being Israelis, for just…being there.
Every time something horrible happens we want to know why. It’s natural to try to understand a motive, but there seems to be nothing to tie together any of our most recent shootings or terror events in the news. I don’t know all the facts yet, but I’m guessing the Palestinian terrorists in the Tel Aviv shooting were motivated by politics, in the long and complicated Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rather than fighters of ISIS. Even the shooting in Orlando, while he pledged allegiance to ISIS, this is the first targeted attack on the west that involved specifically the gay community. What about the motivations of the individual from Indiana who was going to attempt an attack at L.A. Pride Sunday?
We’re reminded that almost annually, when the gay pride parade attempts to march in Jerusalem, that it’s ultra-orthodox extremists that attack their fellow Jews who are gay (just last year in fact there were stabbings). Thankfully, Gay Pride in Tel Aviv is a much more joyous and safe event. What a confusing mess.
I had the honor of emceeing and helping kick off the first-ever Golden Valley Pride (and first suburban Pride in Minnesota) Sunday, mere hours after the massacre in Orlando. Of course Orlando was on our minds, and as I took a break from my emcee duties as someone spoke, I looked to my left and saw a small, but definitely present group of Christian fundamentalist protesters, further evidence of the hatred and bigotry against the gay community. The audacity of protesting and pushing your hate hours after that tragic event! A full circle of extremist hate, from the three major religions. What’s the common denominator? I think just hate. We’re not born with it, we learn it. That means someone taught it, and teaching an idea is a choice.
While I don’t have a lengthy answer, maybe a few wise words from our wise religion for the extremists and the hateful out there:
“I call to heaven and earth today to bear witness. I have placed the choice before you for life or death, blessings or curses; choose life.” (Devarim 30:19)
Choose life. Choose love. Choose peace. I’m comforted that while there five protesters yesterday in Golden Valley, there were hundreds of loving people. While there was one hate-filled shooter in Orlando this weekend, there will be millions across the U.S., Europe — and indeed in Tel Aviv just last weekend — celebrating Pride.
Sven Sundgaard is a meteorologist for NBC-affiliate KARE 11.