Reaction and Overreaction

In the aftermath of the Granada Hills shooting, we’ve learned two sets of facts that seem, in true Jewish tradition, wildly paradoxical:

Fact 1: One hundred and twenty-eight of 130 campers and 37 of 40 preschoolers returned to the North Valley JCC the Monday after the shooting.

Fact 2: According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 37 reported serious anti-Semitic incidents across the country in the previous five years. In the last six weeks alone, there were five.

Fact 2 may reflect an anomalous bull market during a time of declining hate crimes, or it may indicate the start of something big.

“This is Vienna 1938!” screamed an e-mail to our office last week, and not a few letters and interviews reiterated that fear. It’s understandable. Who knows better than a Jew that the hate virus, unleashed, can make smallpox look like the sniffles?

So, then, why did parents willingly, happily, proudly send their children back to the site of the latest violent hate crime? The answer to that has to do not with the crime itself but with the communal reaction to it. The reaction was swift, generous, omni-racial and multidenominational.

In the immediate aftermath, there was the superb response of firefighters, police officers, hospital staff and surgeons. A Jewish paramedic (see our story) teamed with a Chinese-American emergency medicine specialist and an African-American trauma surgeon (Dr. Charles Deng and Dr. Clarence Sutton Jr.) in rescuing Benjamin Kadish, 5, from near death.

The story was big news, everywhere. The Los Angeles Times alone devoted more than 30 reporters and photographers to it. There were editorials denouncing the perpetrator. “What’s really laughable,” read our favorite, in the Daily News, “is this subhuman beast actually thinks he’s part of some super-race, when, of all the 6 billion people living on Earth, he ranks right at the bottom.”

President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Gov. Gray Davis, Mayor Richard Riordan and City Council members offered condolences and help. At the Unity Rally on Sunday at Cal State Northridge, black, Christian, gay, Latino and other groups and leaders (not to mention the university itself) offered assistance. It was no wonder the Rev. Jesse Jackson flew into Los Angeles to welcome the children back to camp. It was Rodney King in reverse: A city that had once fallen apart over race came together over race hate. Vienna 1938? Try Los Angeles 1999.

And all of this merely covers the reaction of the non-Jewish world. Within the Jewish community, there was the momentous and professional response of the JCC staff, social workers, the Jewish Federation, rabbis, and groups such as the ADL and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. That level of professionalism, with a minimum of turf wars and grandstanding, made us look like a very close…community. No wonder the parents sent their children back to the North Valley JCC. From all sides, they felt safe, cared for and protected.

Now, there are real dangers out there: Hate groups on the Internet. Too many guns in the wrong hands. Perhaps too little law enforcement tracking of hate groups.

Jews in Europe and South America reacted to our security concerns with a bemused, “Duh.” As Ruth Gruber reports in these pages, armed guards and metal detectors are de rigueur in many synagogues and Jewish centers around the world. We haven’t found a comfortable mean between wide-open doors and armed camps, but now, of course, we had better start looking. And be prepared to pay for it.

The agenda-pushers and fund-raisers will want us to believe that guns, mental illness, the Internet, hate groups, evil, the media, lack of security or lack of religion is the real culprit. But there is no single cause at fault, nor one simple solution, except this: Fight back on all fronts.

After the attack, friends called from Israel to check if we were safe, and a colleague e-mailed from Berlin — Berlin — to ask if the anti-Semitism is as dangerous here as they say. Please. We feel safe. We are safe. Now let’s just work to keep it that way. — Rob Eshman, Managing Editor

Gene Lichtenstein is on vacation.