Update: Video of the talk is now available online, beginning at 18:18 of the video. Watch the entire clip to see the evening’s other excellent speakers, Rabbi Shira Stern, speaking about “Finding our Resilience by Owning Our Grief,” and Professor James Young, speaking on the process of creating memorials for traumatic events.
Remarks from a “FEDTalk” given at the annual meeting of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, September 5, 2019.
It was the morning of March 17th. 48 hours earlier, a co-worker had alerted me
to the horrible terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. I had been in a fog ever since. The young Syrian man across from me stared at
the floor and told me, “I watched the video online – he wasn’t showing any
emotion. He was shooting people like it
was a video game.”
I catch a half-smile, a hesitant wave, and a curt nod, and I
realize I am supposed to recognize this person.
I return the gestures, but my memory refuses to be jogged. Finally, they approach me close enough for
conversation, and say, “Dr. Weinkle, how are you?” After caring for a few thousand people in the
course of my career, I cannot hold all the names and faces in my head any
longer. “I’m so sorry,” I reply, “please
remind me of your name.”
If only I had chosen to be a judge. According to the Torah, they’re not supposed
to recognize faces – it says so right in Deuteronomy 16:19, when Moses is
explaining the meaning of “judge the people with righteous judgment.” Among other things, he says, “thou shalt not
respect persons,” meaning not to show favor to a rich person because of their
status, or to a poor person out of pity.
Equal treatment under the law is the meaning of righteous judgment. But the Hebrew phrase that he uses to say
this is lo takir panim – literally, “don’t recognize faces.”