Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tikun Olam

In the wake of violence erupting across America I would first and foremost like to offer my sincerest condolences, pain, and sympathies.  What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut is nothing short of horrific.  Innocent children, teachers, and administration were terroristically murdered by the hands of a deranged maniac.

Today, at the elementary school I teach at, teachers were coming up to me and asking me questions about what is going on in America.  How is it possible that a huge and powerful country like that could be grappling with such internal atrocities?  In the eyes of the average Israeli it is incomprehensible that a school would not have a "shomer" (armed guard) watching over the school.  Everyone who walks onto my school's campus walks through the same entrance, where an armed guard sits and watches over the campus.  Truth be told besides morning pleasantries of "shalom, boker tov" (hi, good morning) I never think twice about him sitting in his booth buzzing people in through the locked gate periodically throughout the day.  We usually smile, nod our heads in recognition, or wave as I hurry along to my classroom.  He has an under appreciated job.  He protects over 600 students, faculty, administrators, and volunteers 6 days a week.  

As I sat in the teacher's lounge this morning sipping my tea I found myself lost in thought.  Would I be brave enough if, Gd forbid, I had to face the same situation the teachers at Sandy Hook faced a few days ago?  I have no idea.  Right now there are talks of a 3rd Intifada rising and tensions are high.  Everyone knows it, yet everyone continues on teaching and smiling and living their lives.  

Last night I went to the doctor for treatment for a cough that has been keeping me up at night.  After a short wait I was admitted in to see the doctor... an armed doctor.  Does this scare me?  No.  Now-a-days it gives me relief when I see a gun.  I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I would find relief at the sight of a gun. 10 minutes later I had my prescription in hand and was walking out the door.  Doctor's copay and prescription all for the whopping cost of 15 shekels (approximately $4).  

In my opinion Israel is doing something right here.  Very, very right.  I, as a struggling new immigrant, can get health care services for anything I might need in less than half an hour and for coins at the bottom of my purse.  I can see doctors, specialists, holistic practitioners, therapists, etc with minimal hassle and very low cost.  Anyone can.  

I, like many Americans, spent the majority of my 20s without health insurance.  I couldn't afford the plan, so I opted out and prayed for the best.  I never once talked to a therapist, although I think it would have done me a world of good.  I went 7 years without going to a dentist only caving when my wisdom teeth started to come in and I couldn't take the pain in my jaw anymore.  I only went to an optometrist when I finally caved to the fact that I couldn't drive safely at night anymore (since I couldn't read street signs).

What is this stigmatism in America that makes it so that our pride won't allow us to make real change?  There is a problem when mentally ill people can't get the treatment they need and are left out in the cold to fend for themselves.  There is a problem when depressed people, like I was for a very long time, can't afford and are afraid to get treatment.  It doesn't make you less of a person to realize that you need help!  It only makes you stronger and wiser.  

As a society what do we do when our children are showing signs of mental illnesses and we can't afford to get them the help they need?  

The problem is not only with the guns.  The problem is within ourselves.  

Now these are sweeping generalizations, but for the most part what I'm about to say is true... We are raising a generation of "me, me, me".  Selfishness, ADD, ADHD, mental illnesses, rage, lack of patience, and an unwillingness to do work is crippling our future.  Our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents had it right in a lot of ways.  The child respected and listened to their parents and teachers.  A parent (doesn't matter which one) was home when the kids got home from school.  I was raised knowing that I should come home and start on my homework.  If there was time, I could go play outside with my friends until dinner.  When I heard my Dad whistling I came running home where we all sat down for dinner... every night.... the whole family.  After dinner we could watch 30 minutes of tv as a family, then it was shower time and then bedtime.  As I got older I was allowed to leave the house again after dinner, with strict rules of when I needed to be home and in bed.  That was my reality.  We never owned a video game system, and when we got our first computer we were only allowed limited time playing games.  When our time was up, computer time was over.  We had to play outside with our friends, or read books.  End of story.  We were a middle class struggling family of 6 in the 1990s and it never crossed my mind that life would, could, or should be any other way.  If I wanted something outside of these things I needed to get a job, work, save my money, and buy it myself.  

We now live in a world of instantaneous information and pleasure.  People can get what they want, when they want, and how they want.  Put it on a credit card and just give the kid what they're screaming for and pay for it later.  Our incomes are far less than our debts.  Our quality time spent with people outside of facebook, the internet, and our smartphones are minimal.  

We have increased our intelligence and technology to the point of stupidity.  We have crippled ourselves emotionally and are nearly incapable of interacting with another human being.  We have no attention spans and no patience.  We have no affordable healthcare system that works to take care of the people.  

As an adult I would come home every night from work and sit with my friends laughing and talking and playing card games around my dining room table.  Now I can rarely sit in a room of people without it eventually turning into silence because everyone has the uncontrollable urge to check their facebook.  Why are our internet friends more important than the person sitting right in front of us?  Have we become so desensitized to human interaction that we can't tell that the person next to us, with hundreds of internet friends, is really incredibly lonely?    

In a generation of great information, knowledge, and technology we should become a more sophisticated people.  Instead we have become selfish and self serving and desensitized to the beauties of the world around us.  Our ability to have great knowledge at the touch of a button on our cellphone (that lives in our hand more than our pockets) has led us to ignorance.  We are not the enlightened generation that we think we are.  

Is it worth it to potentially have your children come home at the end of a day when they've been bullied and have no one to talk to?  Is it worth it to allow our children to feel so alone and desperate that they "take matters into their own hands?"  Look at the 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School.  Those boys planed to kill over 500 students.  What have we done to make changes in ourselves and our society even since then?  

The problem is not only the guns.  It's not just guns that kill people... people kill people.  It's time that we take a look around to see what is causing so many destructive tendencies in our children.  If we're like this now, what will the world be like for our children's children?  We must act now!

I knew there was a gun in the house as I was growing up.  I never questioned it, and I never dared to touch it.  I think I slept more soundly at night knowing that my father had a way to protect the family if the need ever arose.  I knew that guns are not toys and I knew the potential danger of having one in the house.  I was an educated child.  I knew that if I had questions I could get the attention I needed to get the answer.  I had the patience to allow that to happen.

As I started to research the numbers of school shootings in America I was overwhelmed by what I found.  My search began as one of curiosity.  How many shootings has there been since I graduated from public school.  I graduated high school in 1999, 6 weeks after the Columbine shooting in Colorado.  I still remember that day.  I remember the shock and horror that kids my age would even think to pull off such an atrocious act.

Here are some of the "highlights" of what I found:  
From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, the United States saw a sharp increase in guns and gun violence in the schools. According to a survey conducted by The Harvard School of Public Health,[38] "15% [of students surveyed] said that they had carried a handgun on their person in the past 30 days, and 4% said that they had taken a handgun to school in the past year," a sharp increase from just five years earlier. By 1993, the United States saw one of the most violent periods in school shooting incidences.

  • 1992–1993 (44 Homicides and 55 Deaths resulting from school shootings in the U.S.)
  • 1993–1994 (42 Homicides and 51 Deaths resulting from school shootings in the U.S.)
  • 1994–1995 (17 Homicides and 20 Deaths resulting from school shootings in the U.S.)
  • 1995–1996 (29 Homicides and 35 Deaths resulting from school shootings in the U.S.)
  • 1996–1997 (23 Homicides and 25 Deaths resulting from school shootings in the U.S.)
  • 1997–1998 (35 Homicides and 40 Deaths resulting from school shootings in the U.S.)
  • 1998–1999 (25 Homicides from school shootings in the U.S.)
  • 1999–2000 (25 Homicides from school shootings in the U.S.)
According to the U.S. Department of Education, in the 1998-1999 School Year, 3,523 students (57% High School, 33% Junior High, 10% Elementary) were expelled for bringing a firearm to school.[40]

The late 1990s started to see a major reduction in gun related school violence, but was still plagued with multiple victim shootings
April 20, 1999: Columbine, Colorado 14 students (including 2 shooters) and one teacher killed, 27 others wounded at Columbine High SchoolEric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, had plotted for a year to kill at least 500 and blow up their school. At the end of their hour-long rampage, they turned their guns on themselves.[41]
April 16, 2007: Seung-Hui Cho, age 23, offender in Virginia Tech University shooting. 32 students and faculty were killed, along with another 17 students and faculty injured in two separate attacks on the same day.
December 14, 2012 Adam Lanza, aged 20, killed 26 people and himself at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He first killed his mother at their shared home before taking her guns and driving to the school. During the attack, 20 first-grade children aged six and seven were killed, along with six adults, including the principal, the school psychologist, and Vicki Soto, a first-grade teacher who gave her life to save her kids by shielding them from the gunman. Lanza then took his own life.[56] 
List of School Shootings.

I hate to be so bold, but here we go... It's about damn time we take a stand.  How is it possible that after one failed attempt at a "shoe bombing" at an airport we all have to take off our shoes at security?  Yet, after hundreds of children have been murdered over the course of the past century we don't have proper security at our schools?  Is tight security when traveling more of an issue to us than protecting our own children where they're supposed to be learning?  Isn't school supposed to be a safe environment?

I don't have all of the answers.  Far from it.  I do know that we have a warped system that allows weapons get into the hands of "bad guys".  I know that "good guys" shouldn't be scared or have to loose their rights to defend themselves because of it.  I know that mental health and education is extremely lacking and far from perfect.  I believe that we should start there.  We need to sit down with our children and talk to them in a real way.  We need to educate on all levels.  We need a health care system that works for the people, and we need to encourage the people to get the help they need.  Without being ashamed!  

I leave you with these thoughts... hug your children, love each other, open your hearts and open your minds.  Don't judge or point fingers without realizing that change starts in your olam katan (your small/personal world).  Change can start in the home.  Affect your home, then your neighborhood, then your community, then (and only then) can you start to make positive changes in your world.  

Don't just go into the world to do well... go into the world to do good!  Tikun Olam!!

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers... so many caring people in this world." - Mister Rogers

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