As JT reporter Simone Ellin was putting the finishing touches on this week’s cover story — an examination of the battle to make the American college campus a safer one for its students — news broke of yet another school shooting, purportedly the 74th nationwide since 2012’s Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut.
This time, a gunman reportedly walked into the Reynolds High School outside of Portland, Ore., and felled a student with his rifle. Authorities later found the suspect dead in a school bathroom. Tuesday’s shooting follows an incident last week at Seattle Pacific University in Washington and the murder of six University of California, Santa Barbara students two weeks ago.
Wherever you stand on the debate surrounding the Second Amendment and the rights of Americans to own and carry guns, it’s hard not to acknowledge that something is clearly wrong with society. And as you’ll see in this week’s cover story, the challenges to campus safety aren’t merely of the firearm variety. Especially threatening to the young women who go to college, our institutions of higher learning are also the repositories of our basest behaviors.
To be sure, there are programs coast to coast, quite a few of them Jewish, that are combatting the dangers prevalent on campus. But as the rash of shootings has shown, where not even an increase in gun-control laws and a sea change in public opinion has helped to make students safer, to fix any problem, you have to get to the root of it.
So what could possibly be behind all of these ills that seem to be either claiming the lives of our young ones at an ever-increasing rate or completely scarring the ones who survive? In short, it all boils down to a lack of human respect. The Germany of the 1920s and 1930s, arguably the most advanced society of the time in the realm of philosophy and the sciences, fell so quickly into the abyss of hatred — culminating in the Holocaust — through a warped logic that dehumanized the Jewish people.
Today, by inculcating in the young the fallacious notion that what truly matters is personal accomplishment, by maximizing the value of the “me” and the “I,” our society has now fundamentally devalued the worth of the other. It is in this vacuum that weapons, alcohol and drugs can become the agents of destruction.
Thousands of years ago, the great sage Rabbi Akiva hailed as the fundamental precept of the Torah: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Typically understood as the positive reflection of the Golden Rule, this precept actually goes much deeper than not doing harm. If you define yourself by your own accomplishments, it will be impossible to ever truly identify with those around you. But if you recognize that what makes you human goes far beyond what your hands will ever create — if you identify yourself as a human being, first and foremost — then you can’t help but see yourself as a part of humanity.
To create a better future for our children, we must teach them that, like different parts of the same body, harm to one of us affects us all.