Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Elevator Story

A guest post by E-Fink

In addition to my work as the Rabbi at Pacific Jewish Center at the Shul on the Beach I am also a Law Student at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. I am part of the evening program and completed my first year of evening classes in May.

In December I was subjected to mid-terms in each of my courses. Many Law School exams are long fact patterns that require the student to analyze the facts and apply all the law that is relevant to the facts and then argue why the law should or should not apply to those facts. Usually these fact patterns are fiction.

My torts professor gave us a very interesting fact pattern. The basics of the case were as follows: two young boys named Israel and Jacob enter an elevator on their way to school. Along the way the elevator malfunctioned and the boys were suspended between the 10th and 11th floor. The doors malfunctioned as well and opened. The younger boy, Jacob, age 5, tried to jump from the stuck elevator to the 10th floor below, but did not "stick the landing". Unfortunately, he stumbled off the 10th floor and plummeted 10 stories down the elevator shaft to his death.

Israel was eventually rescued.

There were many more legally operative facts in the fact pattern and our professor wanted us to analyze the claims against the building landlord, owner and elevator maintenance company. It was a pretty shocking case for all of us.

When we returned to school after the break our professor told us that the fact pattern was basically a true story with some of the facts changed to make a clearer essay. Immediately I "googled" "Jacob Israel Elevator". I found the original NY Times article with the tragic story.

Yesterday the Times had another article on the ongoing litigation. Apparently, the defense wants young Israel, who is 10 and traumatized to testify. This is horrible as any memories of the tragedy could alter his psychological well being tremendously. The case is being litigated as you read this.

I told this entire saga to two people I know. They are both very caring and sensitive people. They both had the same reaction and that reaction is what prompted this post.

When I told the story over, both people had serious looks on their faces and clearly empathized with the poor child.

Then I told them, by the way, the little boys were Chasidish children from Williamsburg.

They both had the same second reaction. Their jaws dropped and they exclaimed Oy! That's terrible! --a much emphatic reaction from before they knew the boys' ethnicity.

At first I was disturbed. Do we care more about some poor Chasidish kids from Williamsburg than anyone else? Is this tragedy worse to us because they are Jewish?

Is this a good attitude? Could this bother non-Jews and provoke anti-semitism?

Or, perhaps it is normal for us to care more about our Jewish brethren. Maybe, we should feel more compassion for our fellow Jews. After all, it is a rule of Jewish law that we are responsible for one another.

This has been gnawing at me for a little while now. Should we care more about a Jewish tragedy than a non-Jewish tragedy?

Even if we are allowed to care more about a Jewish tragedy should we try and mask our feelings to be more politically correct?

Aren't we outraged when non-Jews do not care about Jewish tragedy as much as non-Jewish tragedy?

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