June 23, 2009

Officer Johns

(Note: This post was originally published on June 14th, but got lost somehow in the ether...)

Yesterday, I had just started my walk. I was in the City by myself (my wife was on an annual weekend retreat with her book group) and was looking forward to an uptempo crossing of the Brooklyn Bridge -- a route that offers a surprising incline and the most dramatic views of Brooklyn and Manhattan. As I was approaching J&R, the famous electronics retailer, with my head filled with the Philip Roth novel on my Ipod, I was startled by a hand on my back. I turned quickly to confront whomever it was who had invaded my personal space, and found myself face to face with the kind and funny Rabbi Katz from the Chabad in lower Manhattan. "Are you doing anything now?" he asked, obviously not thinking that my purposeful pace and deep, Roth-inspired concentration represented meaningful occupation. "I'm taking a walk," I replied, "heading for the Brooklyn Bridge." "I need you for a minion, " he told me, and so off we went to the Chabad's small room on the second floor of a nondescript building a block off of Broadway.

At the end of the service, during which I was given the honor of being called up to say a prayer before and after the reading of a portion of the Torah, Rabbi Katz spoke of the shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington. He spoke of the murdered guard, Stephen Tyrone Johns, and of his courage and of his status in the Rabbi's mind as a righteous gentile, who had given his life to save others.

Of course, Rabbi Katz was right. Officer Johns performed a heroic deed and quite likely helped save many lives. The shooting in Washington brought significant focus to our Museum as well. Local news focused on our institution and the security we had in place. My colleagues and I participated in more than twenty press calls and we were given broad coverage in the local broadcast media.

Our message was that our Museum has always had a high level of security. In the wake of the shootings, we have examined our security program and taken additional steps. We believe that a visit to the Museum is more important now than ever as a statement against ignorance and hate.