When the white nationalist accused of killing 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue last week arrived at an emergency room with several bullet wounds, he shouted, “I want to kill all the Jews!” The doctor and the nurse waiting to treat Robert Bowers at Allegheny General Hospital were Jewish; the hospital’s president, Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, belongs to the Tree of Life congregation Bowers attacked. They tended to Bowers as they would any patient. “We’re here to take care of sick people,” Cohen said. “You do what you think is right.” Cohen made a point of talking to Bowers, to see what kind of person could turn an AR-15 on grandfathers and grandmothers and two disabled men. He saw not a monster, but “a very lost guy” who’d listened to the “noise” telling him that white, Christian America was being invaded by Jews, by a caravan of Central Americans, by foreign vermin. “Words mean things,” Cohen said. “Words are leading people to do things like this.”
This feels like a pivotal time for our country. There are bombs in the mail, blood in the temple, and bigotry and division in the air. How many more lost, seething souls like Bowers and accused Florida bomb-maker Cesar Sayoc are out there, becoming radicalized by the “noise” coming from the White House, the TV, and the internet? (See Main Stories and Controversy.) What happens after the election, when partisan conflict will almost surely intensify? Amid the ugliness, it is easy to forget that our country is filled with decent, principled people like Jeffrey Cohen and his staff—people who hate no one, and who struggle every day to do what is right even when it hurts. I’m not Jewish, but I am moved by the concept of tikkun olam—the rabbinical teaching that we each have a duty to “repair the world.” Our world is badly in need of repair. Our wounds need tending. We need more healers, and less hate.