STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN. The small Swedish Jewish Museum is tucked away on a side street. Discreet signage instructs would-be visitors to push a button which activates a camera, so they can be screened before they are granted entry. The museum's permanent exhibition fills one fairly small room. Most of the objects on display are Jewish ritual items with some connection to Sweden, amid descriptions of the relatively short history of the Jews in Sweden (Jews have a longer history of permanent residence in the US than in Sweden). There is also a small section devoted to World War 2, where one item stands out from all the rest.
Compact, commonplace and simple, one everyday item is the museum's most extraordinary exhibit. Raoul Wallenberg's small, well-worn, personal telephone book in his own handwriting is displayed, with the page open to Adolf Eichmann's phone number. Yes, Adolf Eichmann. It's just one page. And as much as that one page sends one's train of thought in all sorts of directions, who knows how many other secrets are hidden within the phone book's pages? Each number has its own story to tell. It's simply incredible how such a small item can manage to open itself and the viewer to such a wide, horrible swath of the world's recent history.
At the top of the display case with Wallenberg's phone book, there is a quote from the Talmud: "Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world." This quotation gained some currency with the movie Schindler's List, which used it as a kind of tag line. Poetic and true in a multitude of ways, the quotation is also a fitting tribute to Raoul Wallenberg.
When I got home that evening, I read about California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is preparing for her coronation as Senator Barbara Boxer's successor, and a comment she made about the recent murder of Kathryn Steinle. Kathryn Steinle was allegedly murdered earlier this month by Jose Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who was in the US illegally, having been convicted of multiple felonies and having already been deported five times. He had been in the custody of the San Francisco sheriff department, who had ignored an ICE request to turn him over to their agents for deportation.
Harris said: "Let's not react to one specific case, when we are looking at a national problem. Let's react to that specific case in prosecuting that specific murder, and making sure he faces very swift consequences and accountability. On the issue of immigration policy, let's be smarter."
Not exactly Talmudic wisdom. Not exactly: "Whoever saves a life, it is as if she has saved the entire world."
Wouldn't the converse also be true? Indeed, the first part of the passage from the Talmud suggests, "Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world."
For Kathryn Steinle's family, an entire world was destroyed. One minute she was strolling through San Francisco with her father, the next minute she was dead. Her last words were a plea to her father for help, much like Kelly Thomas, the unarmed, mentally ill homeless man, who, as he was being beaten to death by six Fullerton police officers some four years ago, cried out in vain to his father to save him. Neither Kathryn Steinle nor Kelly Thomas's fathers could do anything to save their children, and worlds were brutally, murderously and unnecessarily destroyed.
Kamala Harris: "Our policy should not be informed by our collective outrage about one man's conduct."
Can we really, seriously suggest that individual cases can't and shouldn't influence our thinking on larger policy considerations, whether it be police brutality or immigration? Can't individual cases, individual actions, individual situations be the catalyst for positive changes? Shouldn't this be our goal as policymakers, or will the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Kelly Thomas and Kathryn Steinle remain senseless?
Individuals can and do make a difference, whether it be a courageous individual like Raoul Wallenberg, Rosa Parks or Jackie Robinson. But can't we also learn from the victims? Isn't it our sacred duty to give some kind of meaning to their lives in the face of senseless actions?
And yet Kamala Harris is effectively saying that while Kathryn Steinle's murderer should be punished, we shouldn't draw policy conclusions from the circumstances of her murder.
People who are suggesting that Kathryn Steinle's murder shouldn't be "politicized" need to look themselves in the mirror and consider how failing to draw the right conclusions from the circumstances of her murder is in itself the worst kind of opportunistic, cynical political hay-making. I doubt Harris suggested after Newtown, Aurora, Columbine, Charleston or Chattanooga that we shouldn't inform our policies by our collective sadness and outrage at those tragedies. Neither should we fail to take into account the context of Kathryn Steinle's murder, as well as how it could have been reasonably avoided, in setting policy, even if it means standing up to special interest groups who feel that the context and conclusions may harm their own, narrow agendas.
It's fairly simple. Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez should never have been in the US. He had been convicted multiple times of felonies. He had already been deported five times. He himself says that he chose to return to San Francisco because he felt San Francisco's current sanctuary city policies protected him from deportation. He was right.
And yet, had he not been in the country, Kathryn Steinle would be alive today. Why is it so hard for Ms. Harris, as well as other politicians, to acknowledge this simple, clear, logical truth?
And this from the highest law-enforcement official in the State...
Instead of pandering and trying to connect the murder to a lack of "comprehensive immigration reform," it would be fitting if Ms. Harris would accept the simple truth that Lopez-Sanchez should not have been in the US -- and then try to figure out solutions to avoid any more senseless murders. Accept responsibility. Acknowledge the fact that had Lopez-Sanchez not been released by the San Francisco sheriff's department, Steinle's murder wouldn't have happened, couldn't have happened. Do your job. Work on ways to make sure that felons who are in this country illegally are deported and that "sanctuary city" policies aren't allowed to protect felons like Lopez-Sanchez. Do the right thing.
In the meantime, all we seem to get is double-talk, sidestepping and excuses.
It's not only both sad and insulting to us as voters, but until and unless our political leaders are willing to step up and take action to fix the problem, we can only expect more of the same. And it's just a matter of time until another world, senselessly, is destroyed.