JONATHAN JANSEN: The power of a gesture — in Pittsburgh and closer to home
Madiba understood that powerful gestures let our common humanity outshine old enmities — but real change must accompany them
When a 46-year-old white man called Robert Bowers walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in the city of Pittsburgh, in the US, last Saturday, he was driven by a singular obsession – his racial hatred of Jewish people.
After killing 11 worshippers and wounding six others on this Jewish holy day of Shabbat, Bowers was heavily injured in the confrontation with police. Even as he was wheeled into the emergency room at a nearby hospital, Bowers, still boiling with rage, made sure those around him understood his mission: “I wanted to kill all Jews.” Then, the unbelievable happened.
“I am Dr Cohen,” one of the three Jewish doctors tells the bleeding patient. Dr Cohen was a member of the synagogue where the murders just took place. The greatest irony of all, the very people Bowers wanted to exterminate were the physicians working to save his life and care for his wellbeing.
On the other side of town, another moving and unexpected response was unfolding. Two Muslim organisations, including one called CelebrateMercy, had raised more than $150,000 to help victims and their families. It was difficult not to feel a lump in one’s throat as the one Muslim leader, with Jewish congregants behind him, told the community that whatever they needed, whether it was money or security or just someone to talk to, “we’ll be there for you”. In that beautiful, poignant moment all those ancient enmities were dissolved and our humanity shone through the terrible darkness of racial and religious hatreds. As I addressed the farming community of Citrusdal, about 160km outside Cape Town, on Tuesday night, near a packing house for citrus fruits, all the old fault lines were on display. The whites sat at their tables and the black workers at their own tables. The white people spoke and managed the evening, while the blacks listened dutifully. But even here at the foot of the Cede...