The World’s Enormous Grief

The Starting Line, August 2016

Originally published in the San Diego Jewish Journal, August 2016 issue.

By Natalie Jacobs

It was Friday, July 8 when it felt like the news cycle was covered end to end in tragedy. Two black men, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minneapolis, had been shot and killed by police officers. Sterling was killed outside of the convenience store that his best friend owned. Castile was killed in the driver’s seat of his car, with his girlfriend beside him and her four-year-old child in the back. The internet was bursting with articles that outlined the number of black men who have been killed by police this year alone – last I checked, the number was 114. The news shifted to even more horror when a sniper killed five cops who were patrolling a peaceful protest in Dallas. Friday, July 8 was a dark day, halfway through a year that feels like it has been filled with more darkness than light.

That morning, I logged into Facebook as I usually do, to post the San Diego Jewish Journal’s link for the day. I looked at the newsfeed and was stopped by a bright purple strip with small white writing.

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” – From The Talmud, 303.

It has been years since I’ve read religious scripture. The closest I get to the Torah is when I edit our monthly spirituality column. And I’ve never seen the Talmud. The quote was posted by the founding editor of the Dayton Jewish Observer, whom I met at the American Jewish Press Association conference last November. On any other day, I probably would have scrolled right past it. But that first sentence – “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.” – was speaking directly to my thoughts that morning.

I had cried when I read all the news I could stomach, because for a while everything just seemed hopeless, like the world was disintegrating into a nightmare that we couldn’t remember how to wake up from. It was not even a month since the worst shooting in U.S. history – at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Not that more time between tragedies would lessen the devastation but there does seem to be increased momentum behind the morally bankrupt these days. I felt daunted, paralyzed by the never-ending sadness. That tiny sentence and the instructions that followed – do justly, love mercy, walk humbly – were a reminder that there are things I can do, things that I must do.

The minute we feel the world’s grief, we are obligated to it. If there is more grief in this world, then there is more to do. It is one of my hopes that we at the San Diego Jewish Journal are able to use some of these pages to tell stories about the work that our community is doing to be just, show mercy and live humbly, so that not everything we read is about how terrible humans are to each other. In this issue, you will meet teens from San Diego, the West Bank, and two separate neighborhoods inside of Israel who have chosen to connect across barriers, in order to better themselves by understanding the conflict more fully. You will also explore the German Jewish response to the world’s refugee crisis in comparison to the right-wing isolationist ideology spreading across Europe.

We’re also inaugurating August as The Israel Issue, where we’ll explore various aspects of the much-talked about and scarcely understood nation. To start us off, we’re taking a look at what it’s like to work in the “start-up nation,” some curious new techideas, happiness, and the food, because that’s as controversial as anything else in Israel.

And if I may offer one last plea, aim to love each other out there.

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