Our Reaction to the Menorah Incident
Raises Questions of Forgiveness as Well
By Sarah Schiff
Now that the holiday season has come and gone, now that we’ve entered upon a new century and now that time away from school has allowed our minds to simmer and cool, I’d like to return to the heated topic of the vandalized menorah in Red Square. Speaking from the viewpoint of a sophomore in the College, a member of the Jewish community, as well as a personal acquaintance of the offender, ichael Byrne, (MSB ’02) I feel it as my duty to share my thoughts concerning this supposed “hate crime.” Basically, because I am a member of the Jewish community at Georgetown and because I know Byrne, I can tell you that the plainly stupid act he committed in attacking the menorah in the company of dozens of witnesses was not a hate crime at all. In addition, our response to this crime deserves as much scrutiny as the self.
Byrne and I were both residents of the sixth floor of Harbin Hall last year. While I was not a close friend of Byrne freshman year, I can still vouch that the vandalism of the menorah for which he is responsible is not at all indicative of his character. Judging from this, one would immediately wonder how he then could have found it in him to rip down a religious symbol on the last night of Hanukkah, especially considering he had many Jews among the members of his sixth-floor “family.” I am still wondering the same thing.
While certainly upset by Byrne’s actions, I was personally horrified at our community’s response to them as well. During a time of celebration, harmony and a time of forgiveness, many of us could only respond with hatred and blame. We wanted to find the culprit, find him fast and punish him. We wanted him to feel horribly guilty and wrong for his crime. This is a school that promotes some of the highest canons in human morality, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, to love one’s neighbor as one’s self and above all else, to be merciful. This being the case, I found it disheartening to realize that none of these were offered to Byrne.
Please do not believe that these commandments apply solely to those of the Christian faith. Jesus preached in accordance with the school of Jewish thought by which he had lived. Rabbis had long been teaching the value of loving others above one’s self. Forgiveness is not just a value of those of the Christian faith, nor even of just the Judeo-Christian tradition. Hopefully, forgiveness is a value of all members of humanity.
Imagine if our community had reacted to Byrne’s actions with pity, sorrow and forgiveness as opposed to with hatred, malice and vengeance. The idea is not to concentrate on how angry we are, but rather, how angry Byrne must have been to have done such a thing. He is not an anti-Semite. He made a drunken mistake.
What if we had responded with mercy instead of anger? I know it is a clichÃ©, but just for a moment, put yourself into Byrne’s shoes. Hear the jeers and the hateful remarks hurled at you from every direction. Now, instead, imagine those shouts as offerings of help, offerings of forgiveness, offerings of understanding. Watch the angry faces relax into tears and even smiles. Feel the pointed fingers extend to an open palm and open arms. Imagine the effect that such a response might have had on an already repentent “hate criminal.”
Please do not think that I wanted Byrne to have been immediately forgiven and not held accountable for his actions. Of course, he must experience tangible natural consequences to make real to him his wrongdoing. And it is not my place to assign the correct “punishment.” Overall, though, I know that I could not have lived with myself if I could not have shown forgiveness. As a human being, Byrne deserves forgiveness. He deserves mercy. And he deserves our pity and help. It is always easiest to point a finger and become emotional when faced with a crime that seems to exhibit such hate and even evil. But as we all know, the easiest path is rarely the right one. I like to think that human beings find it hard to act out of pure evil. It may be harder for us to do as human beings, but isn’t it the more noble thing, the more humane thing to help Bryne realize his transgressions through justice, and ultimately, to show him mercy and forgiveness? Isn’t that something we all deserve?
Sarah Schiff is a sophomore in the College.