Fueling Our Future or Our Destruction?

2013ftv_oshry_aleezaDespite outlining my topics for this column months ago, the events this summer in Israel have lead me to change course and address a critical issue that, although related to environmental sustainability and our use (or misuse) of natural resources, more closely aligns with our sustainability as a people.

For weeks I’ve been sifting through posts, articles and comments about the nightmare our Israeli brothers and sisters are living through as well as the critique of America’s duplicitous stance with regard to Israel’s need for self-defense and castigation over “disproportionate response” due to civilian deaths. I’ve watched and read in horror of the accounts of anti-Israel and anti-Jew rallies both in the U.S. and abroad, accompanied by varying degrees of hostilities and violence. And with growing trepidation, I have been reading about the growing threat of the Islamic State, as it pillages its way through the Middle East.

Which got me thinking: How do these violent, murderous factions wield so much power and demand so much attention? Why does the U.S. continue to bend in any direction to appease them, send them money and demand one-sided concessions?

It cannot be ignored that a primary reason for the continued involvement in the Middle East and tolerance toward tyrannical leadership is oil.  Our dependence on oil hinders our ability to maintain foreign policies that adhere to our country’s values, creates double standards and compromises our ability to offer unwavering support to the only democracy in the Middle East. Instead, we capitulate to the true violators of peaceful coexistence, allowing fanatical militants to remain in control, amassing resources for themselves and thus keeping their populations in abject poverty.

With our modern technology and industrial ingenuity, there is absolutely no need for our dependence on foreign oil. Yet, we continue to purchase barrels of crude oil pumped out of the ground in war-torn countries led by people who call for our destruction. We then pay to have that oil shipped half way around the world, expend even more (dirty) energy to refine it for use, then dispense to the public using — basically — the same technology that was invented over 125 years ago.

After so much war and bloodshed with this “overseas investment,” how is there not a plan in place to stop our energy dependence from these sources?  Is the “cheap” price of oil worth the real cost of keeping terrorists in power and preventing the more expeditious implementation of alternative energy sources? Our vehicles, factories and businesses should be utilizing energy that can be extracted and distributed domestically, contributing to a home-grown economic boom and jobs.

Communities of faith and conscience have begun weaning themselves off conventional fuel sources and are seeking alternative choices, but Jewish participation is noticeably absent. Foreign oil dependence threatens our security as a nation and as a people; the Jewish community should be the leading advocates for this change. Rather than pushing for economical severance from the source of the problem, our complacency is quite literally supporting our enemies.

It’s time to demand that our organizations lead by example and take a strong stance against our financial investment and dependence on foreign oil, which will diminish the power that these countries wield and, in turn, diminish the violence.

Aleeza Oshry is a local geologist, educator and sustainability consultant.

An Easy Choice in Gaza

Hamas may have been trying to make an example last week through the firing-squad execution of at least 25 Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel. But the public killings in the same week as the beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State made Hamas look not so much as the flag bearer of Palestinian resistance as the terrorist group that the United States and Israel accuse it of being.

The summary executions in Gaza, which followed the Israeli assassination attempt on Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif and the killing of his wife and two children, were condemned by human rights organizations and even within official Palestinian circles. For example, the Palestinian Authority criticized Hamas for the executions because of its lack of judicial oversight and transparency. Similarly, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights called for an end to the “extra-judicial executions.” And Amnesty International said, “Hamas must immediately and totally cease its use of the death penalty.”

For his part, Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk explained the public shootings as an attempt to satisfy the people. “Because of the pressure put on us by the residents of Gaza, because of the cries of despair and so that there would not be further chaos,” he said, “we decided to create deterrence so that people would not try to be clever.” This strange comment from the Hamas leader appears to reflect the organization’s reported concern that it is losing the support of the masses and is turning to public executions as a means of quashing challenges to its rule.

The public outrage over the executions is a welcome rebuke of Hamas, which regularly uses citizens as human shields and turns humanitarian centers into weapons storage facilities. It gives some balance to the odious but popular narrative that Israel is the sole cause of misery in the Middle East.

In the face of a weakened Hamas, Gazans have a choice: They can either seek to end the fighting and strengthen the Palestinian Authority or they can continue to support Hamas as it hunkers down, al-Assad-style, to pursue a grim war of attrition. Hasn’t there been enough misery and death in Gaza to make that an easy choice?

Forget Syria in Fight Against Islamic Foe

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (REUTERS/ Osman Orsal)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (REUTERS/ Osman Orsal)

The United States is considering authorizing airstrikes in Syria in an effort to combat the growing strength of the Islamic State. Those potential strikes raise the question whether that effort will lead to some degree of cooperation between the U.S. and the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. We hope not. Even with the barbaric beheading of American journalist James Foley and the bloody capture of a Syrian airbase by Sunni extremists fresh in our minds, we don’t view the Syrian regime as the lesser of two evils. And we believe there is a viable alternative to an unholy alliance with al-Assad.

There have been 200,000 deaths in the Syrian civil war that began when al-Assad met peaceful protests with bullets. And it was only a year ago that the United States determined that al-Assad attacked his own citizens with chemical weapons. That conduct by the Syrian president warrants continued condemnation and a ticket to the International Court of Justice, not a political makeover to make him appear to be a palatable partner in the fight against the Islamic State.

Often, in a choice between two extremes, it is possible to find more subtle options in the middle. One such option in this case is the Arab states themselves that helped foster the growth and influence of the Islamic State. While it is true that the growth of IS is a product of the collapse of authority in Syria and Iraq, that development wouldn’t likely have come to life in the first place without the support of the Sunni states that oppose Shiite control of Iran, Iraq and Syria, whose Alawite rulers are a Shiite offshoot.

So instead of worrying about the brutal al-Assad and figuring about ways to work with him while not supporting him, let’s turn to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and others, which provided the ideology, funding, weapons and safe passage for the Islamic State fighters. They nurtured IS growth; they have relationships with IS leadership; and they must be part of the solution to the bloody disaster they helped create. Just as the United States is pushing for a political solution in Iraq that will defuse sectarian fighting there, it should put pressure on the Sunni countries that made IS possible to pull the plug and shut it down by any means necessary.

Building coalitions is a tricky business, but that process is not nearly as difficult as withdrawing from a war. In the case of Syria, the enemy of our enemy is still our enemy.

What We Need Is Healthy Communication

runyan_josh_otBack-to-school season is firmly upon us, and with the sales on school supplies just recently ended, the big yellow buses have returned local streets to quagmires of morning and afternoon traffic. Many children are overjoyed at meeting friends they haven’t seen all summer, while quite a few parents are ecstatic that the little ones are once again out of the house for the daytime hours.

But amid the celebrating, there’s also the stress: of new schools, of new friends, of new car-pool routes. For a growing group of new school parents, whose children have — according to Maryland law — 20 days to comply with inoculation requirements, there’s the stress of choosing whether or not to vaccinate their children.

For them, as you’ll read in this week’s cover story, to comply means to subject their children to untold harm. Whatever the questions surrounding the shaky science they rely on, in their minds the threat of autism is real and the danger of vaccinations, as promulgated in a growing body of websites and social media campaigns, darn near certain.

On the other side, parents who adhere to the recommendations of such bodies as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control are increasingly worried about the prospect of their own children, unvaccinated infants among them, being subjected to a plethora of diseases once thought eradicated. For them, the growing anti-vaccination movement is a clear and present danger.

To say that emotions are high in this environment would be an understatement. That 18 outbreaks and 593 confirmed cases of measles occurred in this country between Jan. 1 and Aug. 8 of this year is downright frightening. That whooping cough has experienced a record increase — 9,964 cases from Jan. 1 to June 16, a 24 percent increase over the same time period last year according to the CDC — is horrific.

The culprit identified by authorities for this degradation in public health is the failure of parents to vaccinate their children. Polio was once thought a disease of the past in the developed world, but there are parents here in Baltimore who regard the disease, which killed thousands in 1916, crippled no less than President Franklin D. Roosevelt and continued to kill and disable through the 1950s, as posing little more threat than the common cold in an otherwise healthy child.

That this is a viewpoint gaining a growing, albeit limited, acceptance is scary. But that parents fear reprisals from their friends and neighbors for doing what they legitimately feel is in their children’s best interests is just as worrisome.

Perhaps what is needed is more communication. Far too often, healthcare in this country has amounted to a top-down “do as I say” approach on the part of policymakers and doctors. But while such an approach might have worked in an age where information was scarce, today many people harbor a visceral distrust of “official” dogma. They turn to the Internet, where their views can be magnified, confirmed and spread.

At the very least, those on both sides of the vaccination debate speak for the children. As old-time diseases reappear and spread, it’s time they start talking to each other, rather than past each other.

Editor-in-Chief
jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

The Participant Observer

I have had a long and abiding interest in the process by which we make decisions. Long ago, I was taught that the best way to make a decision is to impartially examine all of the relevant facts. Impartiality guarantees objectivity.

Sadly, however, we are seldom truly impartial, and therefore, our ability to make objective decisions is impaired.

This lesson was first made clear to me in the one of the first courses I took in college. It was in cultural anthropology, a subject that I have found fascinating ever since. I remember reading the works of anthropologists Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead, who studied exotic and primitive Native American and South Pacific societies, although they eschewed the term “primitive.” They believed that, as trained social scientists, they could observe these societies in a neutral fashion, as one would study laboratory phenomena. They felt assured that their descriptions and analyses would be objective.

However, subsequent social scientists severely criticized these studies. They attacked the assumption that one could live in a society for months and even years yet remain impartial and neutral toward that society. One could at best be a “participant observer,” and participants in social interactions can never be totally objective.

The lesson that one cannot be fully objective when he has a personal stake in a situation is the central lesson that Sherlock Holmes tried to teach Dr. Watson in Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective stories. Sherlockís amazing ability to see details that no one else saw, thus drawing his astounding deductions, was a function of his ability to detach himself from the situation at hand and observe it with total impartiality. This is something that the more emotional Dr. Watson simply could not do.

Our self-interests hinder our ability to clearly see the facts before us and, hence, cloud our capacity for clear judgment. This critical life lesson is alluded to near the beginning of this week’s Torah portion: “You shall not judge unfairly; you shall show no partiality; you shall not take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and upsets the plea of the just.”

The Torah instructs judges regarding how they are to handle their professional responsibilities. What application does this have to the vast majority of us, who are not professional judges?

Rabbi Israel Salanter, the influential rabbinic scholar and insightful social critic who founded the important 19th-century ethical school of thought known as the Mussar Movement, asks this question. I have taken the liberty to rephrase his answer in contemporary terminology:

“All of us are judges. We may not be ordained scholars, wearing rabbinic robes. We may not be appointed by the community to adjudicate differences between plaintiffs and defendants. We may be unqualified to sit in judgment of those accused of crimes or sins. But we are all judges, because we all face situations that call for personal decisions on our part. We face such situations countless times each day. A judge is but a person who must decide. In that sense, we are all judges, and we must all be guided by the directives that the Torah issues to the professional judiciary.”

Following this line of thinking, we must all be careful not to take bribes, for bribes will blind us to the facts we need to know in order to make moral and practically effective decisions.

But what are the bribes that threaten to undermine our objectivity in our daily life? Surely, we do not meet up with shady characters, sneaking up on us with envelopes full of cash, attempting to influence the numerous decisions that confront us moment to moment in the course of our daily routine.

Here too Rabbi Salanter has an answer, and here too I resort to my own paraphrase of his profound insights into the human psyche:

“There is a force within us called self-interest. This force pressures us to seek our own comfort, to procrastinate, to find excuses not to act, to avoid risk and flee from challenge. We all tend to prefer the easy way out. This inner force is ‘bribery,’ for it blinds our ability to see the facts as they really are. We choose creature comfort over ethically correct action and are tempted by the promise of immediate gratification instead of the difficult road that would produce long-term achievements.”

This is one of the ways that Rabbi Israel Salanter defines the yetzer hara, the “evil inclination” of which the rabbis speak. But for him, this yetzer harais not a demon or Satan or some other such personification of evil. Rather, it is a normal component of human nature, one with which we all struggle. It is part of our existential condition.

The shady character with the envelope full of cash is within us. It urges us to repress our moral inclination and to deny the sublimity of our souls. It persuades us to settle for less, to ignore our conscience. It frustrates our God-given idealism, and it mocks our values and ideals.

How do we combat this “bribery?” Rabbi Salanter has suggestions in this regard as well, and they include serious study of traditional Jewish ethical works, introspection, humility and self-discipline.

But there is another type of resource more readily available to most of us, and it is epitomized in this familiar teaching of one of our earliest sages, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachya, who taught: “Get yourself a teacher and acquire a companion.”

Too often, especially these days when society pressures us to exercise our moral autonomy, we make decisions without consulting others. We are loath to seek out the advice of wiser men and fail to heed their counsel when we do seek it. We are reluctant to discuss our decisions with friends, peers and colleagues. We avoid those in our circle who could serve as mentors, and our competitiveness prevents us from requesting guidance from others who have confronted our very dilemmas.

Solomon, the wisest of men, advised us, “Salvation comes with much consultation.” Just as we have a yetzer hara, an evil inclination, we also have a yetzer tov, a good inclination. And that good inclination drives us to the company of other human beings. We can discuss our dilemmas with those in our environment who view them more objectively than we can on our own. That is the path to wise decisions, both in the moral and practical spheres of our existence.

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb is executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union.

Revealing His Word from Jerusalem

“But the place which the Lord your God shall choose from among all of your tribes to place His Name there, for His dwelling place, shall you seek and shall you come there. And you shall bring there your whole burnt offerings and your sacrifices.” (Deuteronomy 12:5-6) Apparently, the Torah is speaking of our Holy City of Jerusalem, because it appears in the context of Israel’s entry into the Promised Land and the necessity to destroy the altars of idolatry before establishing our Temple to God. But why is Jerusalem not named?

The Bible has already identified Malki-Zedek as the King of Salem (Jeru-Salem the City of Peace) as far back as the period of Abraham (Genesis 14:18), and Mount Moriah had been designated as the place where the Almighty “would be seen” right after the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:14). Moreover, the Bible has no hesitation in identifying places; witness the specific geographic description of Mount Gerizim and Mount Eyval (Deuteronomy 11:29, 30). So why the reluctance to name Jerusalem in this particular context of the Bible?

Maimonides deals with this question in his great philosophic masterpiece, “Guide for the Perplexed” (Part 3, Chapter 45). He establishes the principle that Divine Service in the Temple was mainly directed against idolatry. Mount Moriah was the highest mountain in the region, so it was specifically chosen by God for the Holy Temple in order to attest to the superiority of God over all other idols. And this Divine intent had previously been revealed to Abraham, as we have seen. If so, why does Moses here hide the precise identity of the City of God?

Maimonides offers three reasons. First of all, he felt that publication of the name of the unique city would only incite the other nations to make war against Israel in order to acquire Jerusalem for themselves. Second, the other nations might even attempt to destroy the city — if only in order that the Israelites not acquire it. And finally, Moses feared lest all the tribes would fight over it, each desirous of having Jerusalem within its own borders.

I believe that in addition to Maimonides’ prophetic insights, there is even further significance behind Moses’ reluctance to reveal the precise name of the city. In the ancient world, every nation-state had its own god — whom the citizens believed lived within the boundaries of that nation-state. Jerusalem was to be the city that would house the Holy Temple of God — but God would exclusively dwell neither within the Temple nor within that city; God was the Lord of the entire universe, who could not be encompassed even by the heaven of the heavens, by the entire cosmos, so certainly not by a single structure or even a single city.

One of the most difficult messages Moses had to convey to his people was that God is not limited by physical dimensions. Yes, Maimonides sets down in his Mishneh Torah that the sanctity of Jerusalem is the sanctity of the Divine Presence (Shekhinah), and just as the Divine Presence is eternal and can never be destroyed,so the sanctity of Jerusalem is eternal and can never be made obsolete (Laws of the Chosen Temple, 6:14). The great Sage’s point is that the Divine Presence can never be physically destroyed because the Divine Presence is not a physical entity; it is not in any way subject to creation or destruction.

There is one place in the world, teaches Moses, where God has consistently been recognized as the Creator of the world and foundation of ethical monotheism for all of humanity. One’s name is not one’s physical being, but one’s name is the medium by which one is recognized and called upon. Malki-Zedek, ancient King of Jerusalem and identified with Shem the son of Noah, recognized God as the power who enabled Abraham to emerge victorious in his battle against the four despotic kings and thereby rescue Lot from captivity; Abraham himself recognized God as the ultimate arbiter over life and death, the one to whom we must commit ourselves and our future, when he brought his beloved son Isaac to the akedah on Mount Moriah (Jerusalem). God’s name is on Jerusalem; it is the city in which the God of ethical monotheism is to be recognized and served.

Finally, the name Jerusalem is not specifically mentioned because this recognition of God as the guardian of justice, compassion, loving kindness and truth is necessary not only for the people of Jerusalem, not only for all the tribes of Israel, but also for the entire world. When God initially elects Abraham, the Almighty charges him and his descendants with a universal mission: “Through you all the families of earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). The prophet Isaiah speaks of our vision of the end of the days, when the Holy Temple will rise from the top of the mountains, and all nations will rush to it to learn from our ways: “From Zion shall come forth Torah and the word of God from Jerusalem … so that nation shall not lift up sword against nation and humanity will not learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:3-4).

May the God who cannot be confined to any physical place reveal His teaching of peace and security from Jerusalem His City to every human being throughout the world.Rabbi Riskin is the founding rabbi of Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York. His columns and articles appear weekly in the Jerusalem Post as well as in many other newspapers and magazines worldwide.

Which Rally Did You Go To?

The Jewish Times’ Aug. 7 article, “Baltimoreans Rally over Gaza” says that hundreds of people showed up. As the first one there at 3:30 p.m. and leaving after Mincha and tehillim at around 8 p.m., I saw a different reality. With plenty of video and pictures to prove the point, and having spoken to the police unofficially, you can be sure that there were a minimum of 1,000 or 1,500 people rallying for Israel, far outnumbering the pro-Palestinians. If I had not been there myself but read the article, I would not have known of the enthusiasm, the spirit and the breathtaking love for Israel displayed by young and old. It was a major Kiddush Hashem. The police, under the leadership of Lt. Col. Melissa Hyatt, respected both sides and did an extraordinary job, above and beyond.

Frank Storch
Pikesville

Time to Make My Feelings Known

To my Facebook friends, I apologize.

If you knew me before the latest war between Israel and Hamas you would know I was a good Facebook friend, sitting politely and quietly in a corner of your social media cerebral cortex, generally speaking only when spoken to or when something more interesting or important than what I had for breakfast crossed my mind.

These last few weeks, however, I have inundated you with posts about Israel’s latest war with Hamas. Day after day, as the conflict went on. And I apologize to you who run the gamut from “Wow, I didn’t know that,” to “Typical Shia,” to “I really don’t care” to “Let them kill each other, now get me a beer.”

I must admit that I was worried about what some of you might think. But I should not have hesitated even for a moment. It is not just because I worry day and night for those I hold dear who race to bomb shelters or are wearing the Israel Defense Forces uniform and hunting down terrorists. It is because when it comes to an existential threat to Israel, the war of public opinion is important.

With so much anti-Israel and anti-Jewish media, with so many Jew-haters taking to the streets, at times violently and with so many timid Jews staying silent, I had to speak up. People are being murdered, hundreds of thousands of them all around the world, all the time, many of them Muslim, by Muslim dictators and terrorist states and groups. And a tiny Jewish nation dares to fight back, and the world goes nuts.

“It’s genocide!”  Really?  If Israel wanted to, it could have flattened Gaza in less than an hour and killed everyone there. “Gaza is occupied and needs to be free!” True. Gaza is occupied, by Hamas terrorists who enslave their own people.

Even today, as nutty as it sounds, Hamas, as well as other Jew-haters, unabashedly pronounce that Israelis kill Arab children to get their blood to bake into Passover matzohs. Again, dealing with crazies such as that who are trying to murder your child, what would you do? The choices are bad, but you would be forced to choose, and you would choose the one that saved your family. And, as Israel does, you would call it self-defense.

My Facebook friends, I am so grateful to live in the United States, a country I deeply love, a place where I can use my voice and my computer for mutual comfort and support and for counterbalancing and educating when I can. Some of you shared what I shared, added your voice to mine as I have my voice to yours, some of you have asked questions about posts and shares, others have learned and sympathized.

I apologize if it has been a lot, and I hope those of you who have not appreciated my prolific “Facebooking” can forgive me, that is if you haven’t already un-followed me. I promise you, as things settle down, so will I.

Finding balance in both life and death

runyan_josh_otNobody likes dealing with the dead. So many of us view it as a necessary evil: Attending to the burial of a loved one is seen as a crucial part of the mourning process, but it is never embraced as something to be anticipated. It is what it is, much like death itself.

But one Jewish family in Baltimore, the Levinsons, have made catering to those dealing with life’s final moments — and those moments immediately after — their calling. Their business isn’t an easy one, whether in terms of the regulatory and religious frameworks governing their trade or in terms of the emotional toll that tragedy inflicts upon their clients.

But as you’ll read in this week’s JT, they’ve been successful in ensuring that the physical necessities of the dearly departed and their journey into the world to come are taken care of with the utmost sensitivity. It’s part of the reason why they’re the only game in town.

For sure, traditional Jewish practices surrounding funerals and burials are way more simplistic than the non-Jewish wakes and similar services in other faith communities. The traditional Jewish casket — in those locales where a casket is used — is no more than a pine box, for instance, emphasizing both the necessity of not hindering the natural process of decay and the idea that when it comes time to appear before the True Judge, we are all human and therefore equal.

But the Jewish funerary business has been evolving, and many families seek to adapt traditional practices or insert their own innovations. That makes the role occupied by Sol Levinson and Bros., Inc. not an enviable one.

It’s a role not unlike that of a pulpit rabbi, who on the one hand is the keeper of tradition, the teacher of the congregation, and on the other is the representative of the congregants. The rabbi represents not only Judaism, but Jews and so must conduct the holy work of congregational leadership with an eye on the individual. It takes both integrity and sensitivity.

Come to think of it, integrity and sensitivity are traits that more of us should nurture and develop in our own lives. More often than not, people err on one side or the other, embracing steadfastness but sacrificing empathy or sacrificing principle in the pursuit of harmony. Finding that balance has never been easy, but were more people to cultivate it, the world would be a much happier place.

Centuries ago, Maimonides ascribed a host of ailments to the lack of balance in a person’s physical, emotional and spiritual lives. And kabbalistic wisdom has long stressed the idea that spiritual flaws can manifest themselves as physical maladies, and vice versa. So the search for balance becomes not an added component to a life well lived, but a prerequisite to a healthy life.

As we approach the final month of the Jewish year and the upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashanah, may we all find balance, especially those of us who are dealing with tragedy.

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

Weapons of War

082214_editorial

Police special units equipped with military gear stand guard during the riots protesting the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. (Xinhua/Sipa USA/Newscom)

The citizens of Ferguson, Mo., in suburban St. Louis, are not Taliban fighters or al-Qaeda hijackers. Nor are they narco-criminals. But you wouldn’t know that by looking at photos of the police force that faced them after a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, on Aug. 9. In those chilling pictures, law enforcement officers faced demonstrators — that is, citizens — in full military regalia, in mine-resistant armored vehicles with rifles pointed at people’s chests. In the words of one observer: “That’s not controlling the crowd, that’s intimidating them.”

Fifty years after Freedom Summer, when Americans of goodwill were knocking down the walls of segregation and racism, the message from Ferguson is that not all that much has changed — at least not everywhere, and not always. Minorities and African-Americans are still disproportionately victims of police excess. Whatever Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson was thinking, the  force he sent out to face the mostly African-American crowd looked less like public-safety officers and more like an occupying army. That show of overwhelming force added to the tension rather than calming it.

Much has been made in recent days of the militarization of local police forces and the adaption by civilian forces of the equipment and mind-set of the military. Born during the War on Drugs and expanded during the War on Terror, the program makes billions of dollars in leftover military equipment available to local police. And they use it. The national reaction to the images of excess power in Ferguson could lead to efforts to close the spigot of weapons of war to local police, where they aren’t really needed.

President Obama said on Monday that a review of the program would be “useful,” because, among other reasons, maintaining a “distinction between our military and domestic law enforcement … helps preserve our civil liberties.” We agree.

We are hopeful that a demilitarization of local police will help change a mind-set that contributes to what the president called “a gulf of mistrust” between local residents and law enforcement. And as part of that change, we hope that law enforcement will embrace the idea that most of the angry, frustrated, initially nonviolent people they face in most demonstrations are not enemies, but neighbors.