A reporter called me after I returned home from the final service on Rosh Hashanah. He asked me, as synagogue president, to comment on the plea agreement entered into by one of the suspects in the murder of Dan Markel. I was speechless. I knew nothing of the plea agreement or of the most recent developments in Tallahassee’s highest profile murder case. I’d spent the past two days inside the synagogue where Dan Markel used to bring his two young sons for Saturday morning services, so I missed the news. Gathering my wits, I told the reporter that I wasn’t aware of the plea agreement, so he told me about the plea and asked me to comment. “I didn’t really know Dan” I explained, which was true. Despite seeing him at synagogue services with his two sons on a regular basis we never connected, and the few times I tried to have conversations with him were utter failures. The phone call ended in what I’m sure was disappointment for the reporter. There wasn’t anything that I could add to the news story.
When I hung up the phone I was struck by the irony of this happening on one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar. Although I barely knew him, it was apparent to me that Judaism was very important to Dan Markel. I remembered a time when Dan and Wendy came to the synagogue together with their two baby boys and how they appeared to be an ideal couple. I wondered what happened to bring such tragedy into their lives.
Although we never became close friends, I did know his ex-wife, Wendy Adelson, better than I knew Dan Markel. Wendy invited me to talk to her class at the law school about a case I worked on a few years ago regarding women’s rights to make medical decisions during their pregnancies. I found her to be quite gracious and not at all the elitist princess she’s been made out to be in the press. Whenever our paths crossed, as they inevitably do in a small town like Tallahassee, she would always greet me warmly, never once mentioning the divorce or troubles in her life.
I’ve become very ambivalent about reading the news stories revealing the latest developments in the case or finding out what happened. What is a sensational crime story to most of the world feels rather personal to me. The awfulness of the murder and the investigation into the most intimate details of the lives and actions of the suspects and people who were a part of my community is disturbing to me.
I wonder how many other struggles and dramas are happening to people in my world of which I’m not aware. If you look at the surface of my community things look pretty good for most families. You don’t see old broken down cars in our synagogue parking lot, people are dressed nicely, I don’t see suspicious bruises or wounds on people, and I’ve not seen any signs that people are going hungry. On Facebook, my friends post pictures of happy families, incredible meals, and awesome vacations. The illusion of perfect lives can be difficult to see past. Also, we must respect boundaries. People often go to great lengths to conceal the imperfections in their lives and would suffer great shame if their secrets became public.
I’ve been a nurse and an attorney too long to believe that what we see on the surface reflects the reality of people’s lives. I often say that the problems of the world are found sitting in the pews of every synagogue and church in the nation. Being part of a community doesn’t make one magically immune to making terrible mistakes, the difficulties of life, or the dangers of the world, but community can provide us with a place where we can find strength and share those challenges. Nor do we become immune to the problems of marital discord, addiction, mental illness, or any of the multitude of different forms of human dysfunction because we may come from a privileged background or have been blessed by exceptional talent or a brilliant intellect. Indeed, privilege can be a trap for some who come to believe that they cannot survive without it.
I wish that I could bring this blog post to some kind of wise conclusion where all this makes sense, but my thoughts aren’t there yet. Instead, I’m left with feelings of dismay and bewilderment, and a sense that this is a situation that no amount of punishment can repair. Maybe it doesn’t matter to me what the police and the Courts do to those involved in the murder. Nothing they do will restore life to Dan Markel. Nothing they do will bring back the father his two liitle boys lost, or the son his parent’s lost, or the brother his siblings lost. Contemplating this I recall a teaching in the Jewish religious tradition that says: “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world.”
Please note that what is written here is offered as a statement of my thoughts as a private citizen and not on behalf of the Tallahassee Jewish community or any entity other than myself.