Force murder nudging me toward politics

When I came back from the Southern Jewish Historical Society conference in Nashville last October, I thought the Jewish aspects of that city would make good reading someday.
So, this is “someday.” The recent murder of Taylor Force in Tel Aviv has bridged the distance between these two places for me.
Taylor was a student in the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University, the pride of Nashville. Our conference was headquartered in its Jewish Student Center.
Nick Zeppos, Vanderbilt’s young chancellor, talked to us candidly about the university’s past, filled with discrimination and quotas. But modernity caught up, aided by public opinion and pressure — not so much from the city’s Jewish population, because Nashville doesn’t have a big one, but from broadside responses to equal rights movements and U.S. legislation. Zeppos is proudly Greek, so he knows more than a bit himself about belonging to a minority.
Taylor Force was a force indeed! Before enrolling at Vanderbilt, he’d already graduated from West Point. He’d already been a U.S. Army field artillery officer, serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan as well as at Fort Hood right here in Texas, his home state. He’d grown up in Lubbock, where he was an Eagle Scout. He wasn’t a Jew, just a tourist enjoying Israel with a student group. Earlier this week, he was buried and memorialized at Broadway Church of Christ in his hometown.
I’ve never been a political person, but I have to give U.S. Senator Ted Cruz his due here; his statement about this tragedy strikes me as strongest of all the many: “The murder of Taylor Force is grim evidence that the scourge of radical Islamic terrorism targets Americans and Israelis indiscriminately,” he said. “Our alliance with Israel must remain unshakable as we face this vicious threat together.”
I can visualize the Jews of Nashville honoring this martyr to would-be “martyrs.” I’m sure they prayed for him. During our conference weekend, we were guests for Shabbat evening services and dinner at the city’s major Reform congregation; the next evening, we enjoyed a musical Havdallah and dessert reception at the large Conservative synagogue. There are only about 8000 Jews in the city, but that number is growing. Now it’s a good place to live, they say.
What is it about a small Jewish population that brings its members together? Maybe the comfort of the familiar, or for worship and celebration, especially on holidays, or to do important things. This community has already established a Jewish school, a Federation, a Foundation, a JCC. One thing of great importance is the small but mighty, totally outdoor Holocaust Memorial, which follows a winding path to its center. And there, visitors find this quote from Elie Wiesel: “When anyone becomes the victim of hatred and persecution, we must not and cannot turn away. The price for indifference is too high.”
The Jewish students at Vanderbilt welcomed us warmly. On our last evening, in a main hall of the university, some of us gathered to learn informally about their school and their school experiences. I was particularly intrigued by a notice on one of the general information bulletin boards: “First Year Writing Seminar,” it was headed. “Gender, Sexuality, and Desire in Jewish Literature.” Below: a portrait of Queen Esther (how appropriate to be remembered this week!) as visualized by Edwin Long in 1878. The invitation: “No prior knowledge of the Bible, Jewish studies, or gender studies is required.” This told me quite a lot about integration and acceptance.
After Taylor Force, I’m thinking more than a little about kissing goodbye to my long-time aversion toward political activism. This doesn’t mean I’m voting for Cruz just because of his strong support for Israel, any more than that I’d vote for Hillary Clinton just because she’s female. It’s because for Jews to be political in these tragic times seems to me isn’t just politics. It’s being really Jewish.

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