We are all devastated and shocked by yesterday’s murders of eleven Jews in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Our hearts go out to the families and Jewish community of Pittsburgh as many of us gather today in vigils and services around the country. Many of us are also gripped by fear as we wonder whether we are safe in this country which we thought was a haven of freedom and security.
Of course, every community will do what it needs to make sure that they feel safe and secure. Sadly, it is likely that many of us will become more wary of strangers, more likely to lock our doors. The sense of trust and civility that we have assumed in this country appears to be eroding daily.
But our security will not come from more guards or locked doors or metal detectors. This outbreak of antisemitism isn’t isolated but is only one part of a broader outbreak of hate and violence that we are experiencing in this country. It would be a tragic mistake if we in the Jewish community turn inward and conclude that this is like the old-fashioned antisemitism that we remember from Europe. Our reaction used to be, “Don’t trust those others. We can only trust a Jew.”
Today our reaction must be the exact opposite: This antisemitism is only one part of a virulent outbreak of hatred directed at the Outsider, the Foreigner, the Alien, the Other. We cannot talk about this antisemitism without talking about the hatred being whipped up against Latino asylum seekers on our Southern border, against blacks and transgender people.
I got the news about the murders in Pittsburgh last night, just hours after my family had gathered in our synagogue to celebrate my oldest son’s Bar Mitzvah. After one of the most joyous days of my life I was suddenly thrust into a complex mixture of emotions: sadness, shock, anger, fear – all now mixed with the after-glow of a beautiful celebration of family, friends and community as my oldest son was called to the Torah, and taught his unique words of Torah in our community.
Later that evening, as I greeted our guests at the Bar Mitzvah party I could only say that our answer to the hatred must be to love more: to love our families, and our community and the whole Jewish people, and to let our love spread out from there to the whole world. While others are spreading the language of hatred and fear, we must guard ourselves against being caught up in the instinct to “circle the wagons.”
Now, more than ever, we must stand up for the Other, the Immigrant and the Alien. We must make sure that we elect leaders who help us spread love and caring for one another, not those who feed the fires of hatred. Now, more than ever we must understand that we are all in danger when we live in fear and we are all safer when we embrace the humanity of all people as living images of the Divine, no matter what color, religion or gender.
Today we mourn with the Jewish community of the Tree of Life synagogue, and the Jewish community of Pittsburgh. Tomorrow we must take up the work of bringing this country closer to its great, founding ideals of liberty and justice for all. We must take up the Torah’s command to love the stranger. Then the Torah will truly be an Eitz Chayyim, a Tree of Life.