It’s been nearly a week since a hate-filled anti-Semite entered Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on a peaceful Shabbat morning and murdered 11 innocent souls who had gathered there to pray. So many of us are still reeling from the shock and horror of the killings, from the unabashed, flagrant and virulent anti-Semitism, from the violation of sacred space. We’ve reflected on the lives of the victims and shared stories of their goodness and their humanity. We’ve sought comfort in each other’s presence and stood together to reject hatred.
What’s next? How do we ensure that this massacre doesn’t fade into the recesses of memory, blurring together with other senseless, tragic and hate-filled mass killings?
There are certain moments in life that appear as a watershed, becoming the singular point when we decide to change our attitude and behavior. Such moments are either times of triumph or times of tragedy, and they inspire us to enlarge our thinking on how we live our lives and take on new commitments that hold out hope for making a difference in the world.
This is such a moment. The unfathomable tragedy of the murder of 11 Jews praying in a synagogue on Shabbat morning must motivate us to combat hate, to stem the growing and dangerous tide of gun violence in this country, and to reject the ways that human beings are demeaned and subjugated: anti-Semitism…racism…homophobia…Islamophobia. Now, and not some other time in the hazy future. Find an organization that seeks to obliterate those scourges in our society and help them with their work.
The murder of the Pittsburgh 11 must also prompt us to embrace goodness and decency. When something is wrong in this world, when someone flings hatred at others, when someone takes a life or demeans another human being, our response must be to restore the goodness of the world. That is the essence of the Jewish value of Tikun Olam- repairing of the world. When the world’s goodness is tainted and compromised, we perform healing acts that renew that goodness and replenish our hope and confidence in humanity.
What should we do in the aftermath of last week’s killings in Pittsburgh? Go out and do something good for a person in need, lend your time to a community that is wanting, help to feed the hungry or provide warm clothing for those who don’t know how they will protect themselves from the cold of winter. Let this ugly, disheartening moment be the one that prompts us to redouble our efforts to bring an extra measure of goodness into the world.
One more thing: What should Jews do in response to a graphic act of anti-Semitism, an assault on our people? Two responses are called for. First, we must continue to combat anti-Semitism with all our strength. We must call out anti-Semitic acts when and where see them, report them to the authorities, and be unafraid to confront this terrible form of hatred. Anti-Semitic acts are on the rise in this country, as they are in Europe. In one sense, there is nothing new about that statistic. Jews have always been the target of haters, the intended victims of those who wish to find a scapegoat for whatever ails them. We cannot become complacent or apathetic. Anti-Semites should face the consequences of their hateful actions.
Beyond that, hatred of Jews must prompt us to re-energize our commitment to Judaism. How do you respond to an act of anti-Semitism? By reaffirming the importance, the beauty and the worth of living a Jewish life, and by ensuring that the Jewish future is vibrant and filled with hope. That won’t happen with proclamations or vigils. It will happen if more of us find our place along the spectrum of organized Jewish life and play a role in growing and strengthening the Jewish people around the world.
On that note, I urge you to Show Up For Shabbat, in particular this week. Let synagogues everywhere be filled to capacity with people coming together to pray, to bless, to express joy and to give thanks for our heritage.
Here at Oheb Shalom, our Friday night service begins at 6:30 PM, during which we will share a memorial tribute to the 11 people who were killed last Shabbat morning. Our Shabbat morning service begins at 9:45 AM, during which we will pray about tragedy and finding the strength to recover from it. I hope to see you!