Volume > Issue > Are You Sleeping?

Are You Sleeping?


By David C. Stolinsky | November 2016
David C. Stolinsky, M.D., who is of the Jewish faith, lives in Los Angeles. He is retired after twenty-five years of medical-school teaching at the University of California at San Francisco and the University of Southern California. He writes regular columns at www.stolinsky.com.

When a pope dies, he is pronounced dead by a physician, just as ordinary people are. But then an older tradition takes over. The papal chamberlain calls out the pope’s first name and asks, “Are you sleeping?” On getting no response, he taps the pope three times on the forehead with a small silver hammer. If this too evokes no response, the chamberlain announces to the world that the pope is indeed dead.

This custom might seem quaint, even somewhat silly, but it popped into my mind unexpectedly after I learned of the most recent terror attack in Western Europe by Muslim extremists. On July 26 two young men of Algerian descent slit the throat of an elderly French priest as he offered morning Mass in his picturesque church in Normandy. His two murderers forced him to kneel before they slaughtered him, after which they delivered a “sermon” in Arabic on the altar.

Really, what are all the recent terrorist attacks in Western Europe but taps on the forehead with a small — or perhaps not so small — hammer? Consider:

– The Frankfurt airport shooting of two U.S. airmen (March 2011)

– The Toulouse shooting of three Jewish schoolchildren (March 2012)

– The murder and near beheading of a British soldier near his London barracks (May 2013)

– The Paris Charlie Hebdo and kosher deli shootings (Jan. 2015)

– The Paris theater mass shooting and mutilations (Nov. 2015)

– The Cologne New Year’s Eve mass rape and sexual assaults (Dec. 2015)

– The Nice truck assault on a crowd celebrating Bastille Day (July 2016)

– Four violent attacks in Germany over the course of one week (July 2016)

This is nowhere near a complete list. One must consult the Internet to have any hope of keeping up with the continuing litany of barbarism. Apart from adding to the count of the dead, injured, and traumatized, what has been the net result of these attacks? Zero. Nil. Rien. Nichts. Nada. Niente.

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