It’s been nearly three weeks since the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the murders of six Tucsonans, and the wounding of 12 others. For many members of the Jewish community, the singing of the Mi Shebeirach, a prayer/song of healing, framed the week following the shooting rampage. On Sunday Jan. 9, the day after the massacre, the composer of the most popular version of the song, Debbie Friedman, died and was mourned at a healing service at Congregation Chaverim, where Giffords is a member.
With tears flowing, congregants wove their arms around each other and swayed to the soothing words and melody of Friedman’s prayer, not yet knowing if Giffords would survive.
The Mi Shebeirach was again sung on Jan. 15 at a Havdallah service at the memorial that sprang up in front of University Medical Center, where Giffords and two other shooting victims were recovering. The congresswoman was transferred on Jan. 21 Houston, to begin the next phase of her recovery.
Meanwhile, a medium-security prison in Phoenix holds Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged shooter, who has been charged on five federal counts. Two weeks ago, a gun show took place in Tucson; the owner of the Utah company that ran it extended his condolences to victims of the shooting rampage, encouraging people to “lawfully and thoughtfully continue to exercise your Second Amendment rights.” The Safeway at Ina and Oracle, the scene of the shooting, re-opened on Saturday, Jan. 15.
By Wednesday, Jan. 12, the tide had turned for Giffords. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama presided over a memorial, “Together We Thrive: Tucson & America” at the McKale Center on the University of Arizona campus. When the president announced that Gabby had opened her unbandaged eye for the first time that afternoon, nearly 14,000 people seemed to rise in unison, cheering wildly. It was a cathartic moment for our badly shaken community.
“The truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack,” said Obama in his widely acclaimed speech. “None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind.”
But there are questions that should be asked in Tucson’s Jewish community and beyond.
Gov. Jan Brewer and Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce have said they see no reason for Arizona to limit the sale of high-capacity ammunition such as Loughner used on Jan. 8. They continue to support recent legislation that allows adults to carry a concealed weapon without a state permit. Some Arizonans have said that more people carrying guns would improve public safety.
Gun safety warrants more public discussion. Why does anyone need to spray an area with 33 bullets? What happens if and when a citizen carrying a concealed weapon shoots an innocent bystander? Are there laws that could improve gun safety in Arizona that would still protect Second Amendment rights? Many news outlets have reported that Rep. Giffords owns a Glock 9-millimeter pistol herself and has favored gun rights.
“Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems,” said the president on Jan. 12.
In the aftermath of Tucson’s community shock, will we “be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future” as the president advised?
“I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here – they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world,” said Obama, “but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us.”
How many of us were incredulous – and grateful – to learn that individuals ran toward the shots to help, rather than follow what might be a natural inclination to flee? Like the president, we believe that the American people are “full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.”
“Bless those in need of healing with refuah sh’leimah/the renewal of body, the renewal of spirit/and let us say, Amen. — from the Mi Shebeirach
The outpouring of love and support for Gabby and the other shooting victims has been heartening to all Tucsonans, and to millions around the country. But let’s keep asking those nagging questions.