FILE PHOTO: Jason Aldean performs at the 52nd Academy of Country Music Awards Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., February 4, 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo

Dancing With Darkness


Country music star Jason Aldean, performing at the outdoor Harvest Festival in Las Vegas on the night of Oct. 1, was just beginning a new song when bullets from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel began raining down on thousands of unsuspecting concertgoers.

After the killer was done, 58 people perished and nearly 500 were injured.

We still don’t know what motivated Stephen Paddock to commit this monstrous act, but we do know what enabled him to do it: Living in a free and open society.

Paddock was free to book two adjoining hotel rooms and bring along an arsenal of high-powered guns and rifles. The hotel’s personnel were not free to check his luggage, lest they violate his rights. Had a security official said to him, “Excuse me, sir, this luggage is unusually heavy, we have to check it,” he could have sued the hotel.

Paddock knew that America had given him a safe space to carry out his destruction. He knew he was living in a country where the right to be left alone is sacred. He had complete confidence that if he acted “normally,” he would be free to crack open his hotel window and start shooting.

We soon realized that the two stories were connected by a difficult question: How do we rejoice when darkness strikes? We are not robots. When tragedies consume our consciousness, how can we be expected to dance and celebrate? How does the Jewish tradition handle such dilemmas?

Paddock used his freedom to destroy the same freedom in others. Through the long lenses of his weapons, he must have seen the faces and bodies of those “others” exercising their freedom to be left alone, their freedom to enjoy a concert under the stars. With each pull of the trigger, he killed the freedom of movement that he himself cherished and gorged on.

“Some days it’s tough just gettin’ up” were the words Jason Aldean was singing when Paddock’s gunfire intruded. He kept singing for a bit (“Throwin’ on these boots and makin’ that climb / Some days I’d rather be a no-show lay-low ‘fore I go outta my mind”) before quickly running backstage.

Journalists can’t run backstage when mayhem happens. We do the opposite — we run toward the mayhem. We put our emotions aside and hunt for facts. To help our readers make sense of the senseless, we look for smart analyses and insightful commentary. We did all of that in preparing for this issue.

But we had a conflict: We had planned a beautiful cover story for this issue on the joyful holiday of Simchat Torah. What should we do with it? Our first instinct was to move it inside the paper and put the Vegas tragedy on the cover, as we usually do when disasters strike. In this case, however, I decided to call the writer of the Simchat Torah story, Rabbi Zoë Klein Miles, and discuss the issue with her.

We soon realized that the two stories were connected by a difficult question: How do we rejoice when darkness strikes? We are not robots. When tragedies consume our consciousness, how can we be expected to dance and celebrate? How does the Jewish tradition handle such dilemmas?

My friend Zoë seized the moment and decided to rework her piece. Hence the cover: “How do we rejoice at Simchat Torah during times of darkness?” It’s worth a read.

Three of our columnists — Danielle Berrin, Marty Kaplan and Monica Osborne — also weigh in on the difficult questions that have come out of Vegas. A Chabad rabbi living in Las Vegas writes about how he will dance at Simchat Torah despite the darkness. Reporter Kelly Hartog details how the local Jewish community in Vegas is responding. Rabbi Naomi Levy offers a special prayer for the victims. And our millennial poet, Hannah Arin, who was raised in Las Vegas, writes about a “desert that speaks.”

On our debate page, we have two views on the Second Amendment, one by our columnist Ben Shapiro and the other by Philadelphia attorney and gun-control activist Karen Kaskey.

Meanwhile, Karen Lehrman Bloch weighs in on the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal that has provided its own source of darkness, while new columnist Dr. Jennifer Yashari writes about the challenges of living with a degenerative muscular disease that strikes mostly Persian Jews.

As consumed as we are by one event, the weekly rhythm of our stories continues. Senior Writer Eitan Arom reports on the plight of the Yazidis, which the community learned more about during Yom Kippur services, while Kelly Hartog writes about a newsstand owner in Brentwood who is taking a stand against Whole Foods.

So yes, darkness hits us time and time again, but life and Torah continue…. In our free society, maybe that is the best message we can deliver to the forces of darkness: no matter what comes, we ain’t going nowhere.

From Israel, our political editor Shmuel Rosner weighs in on the Iran deal, while Debra Kamin profiles a biker, former drug addict and dog rescuer in “Humans of Israel.” You’ll find many more stories throughout the paper, including a book review on “The Salome Ensemble” and Naomi Pfefferman’s story on a new film about Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

To coincide with the new beginning of the reading of the Torah, we are launching this week a new feature called “Table for Five,” in which five different voices comment on a verse from the weekly Torah portion. In this issue, we have American Jewish University’s Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Sephardic Rabbi Marc Angel, Jerusalem scholar Tova Hartman, Venice Rabbi Lori Shapiro and Hancock Park Chassidic Rabbi Reuven Wolfe weighing in on a seminal episode from the Garden of Eden.

So yes, darkness hits us time and time again, but life and Torah continue. When Jason Aldean was interrupted by the guns of evil, he was about to sing, “But when she says baby / Oh, no matter what comes ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

In our free society, maybe that is the best message we can deliver to the forces of darkness: No matter what comes, we ain’t going nowhere.

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