The countdown toward a reckoning for Pittsburgh is ticking

The countdown toward a reckoning for Pittsburgh is ticking
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With the national election results, we can expect an atmosphere filled with partisan rhetoric and political positioning with an eye towards the next electoral contest, less than two years away.

Our nation’s leaders had best remember that incumbency is no longer the absolute protection plan it has been in the past. The electorate is in an unforgiving mood, willing to sweep out incumbents of either party, if they don’t see results that improve their lives. The best course of action – for both parties, and more importantly for America – even when the inevitable clashes begin, is to simultaneously reach across the political aisle and begin implementing reasonable bipartisan solutions for our nation’s priorities.

Dealing with the rising tide of anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry should be at the top of the list for both Republicans and Democrats.

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In one week, pipe bombs were sent to former elected officials, African Americans were killed at Kroger’s, and 11 Jews met their deaths and four police officers were wounded at the hands of a murderer during a Sabbath service in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life synagogue. This was the greatest single act of violence against Jews in our nation’s history.

Following the Pittsburgh massacre, tens of thousands of people gathered at vigils across the nation, representing our extraordinary diversity where they expressed their collective sorrow, outrage and hope for a better future.  In Washington, D.C., at Adas Israel Congregation over 5,000 attended the country’s largest such gathering.

While the U.S. remains the world’s dominant military and economic power, within our borders, skyrocketing anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry are tearing at our nation’s moral fiber. America requires a strong dose of a national antibiotic to eliminate this toxic environment.

The world has always had unsurpassed admiration for our nation’s values – but these values are under assault by hatred permeating our society today.

In less than a year from now, on the Jewish calendar of the anniversary of the tragic Pittsburgh deaths of these blessed souls (yahrzeit), we will gather to remember their lives, console their loved ones and reaffirm our Judaism. It will also mark the approximate midpoint to our next national elections.

And at that time, we Americans will have to face a stark moral question: Has our nation learned the necessary lessons, implemented substantial changes and become a better place?

What happened in Pittsburgh was entirely predictable. When you mix mental illness, available weaponry, hatred and social media, you end up with self-radicalized individuals ready to commit random acts of violence.

So much of what needs to be done is obvious, and our nation’s leaders should know how to respond to these questions:

Will our nation’s leaders surprise us and dispense with their sharpened derogatory discourse, return to a mode of civility, and realize that words matter and have consequences?

Will our nation’s leaders agree to wholeheartedly condemn racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry in the harshest terms without equivocation or reservation?

Will these same leaders tell those who espouse hate that they are “the other,” not those who are the targets of the bigotry?

Will our nation’s leaders act immediately in a bipartisan fashion to implement common sense gun control legislation that Americans overwhelmingly support?

Will our nation’s leaders provide law enforcement with additional resources to monitor radicalized individuals who are on a predictable trajectory towards violence and create intervention programs to preemptively engage them?

Will our nation’s leaders provide the resources, perhaps with state and local assistance, to employ off duty police officers to protect synagogues and others houses of worship?

Will our nation’s leaders move quickly to make mental health counseling accessible and affordable to all those who seek or need it and recognize that treating mental illness is as necessary as dealing with any other long-term physical illness?

Will we mandate that all schools, in addition to successful anti bully programs now in place, institute intensive bias training, so that we may shape a cultural shift for years to come?

Will we see identifiable changes, or will we look back in national shame that nothing has changed for the better?

The clock toward yahrzeit is ticking.

Some will ask if we have the resources to implement these necessary responses, which will cost millions.

My response is: Can we afford not to?

Let’s demand that our nation’s leaders reject the ideological purists, on both sides of the political aisle, and institute common sense bi-partisan solutions that will demonstrate that the Pittsburgh massacre was the turning point that led us to alter the trajectory that threatens to undermine the greatness of America.

Ron Halber, is the Executive Director of Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington