On Yom Kippur morning our community heard about an attack on a Muslim community centre in our local area. A car had driven into a crowd of people leaving the centre – seriously injuring three. With the words of Isaiah from the Yom Kippur Haftarah reading – ‘this is the fast I desire: to unlock the fetters of wickedness’ (Isaiah 58:6) – ringing in our ears, a delegation of us went to visit the Al-Husseini Association to stand in solidarity with them. Our offer of comfort and support was warmly received. I lead our delegation in sharing Jewish prayers for healing and for peace.
Sadly it is now our turn to feel sorrow, loss and fear. One of our members, Alison, grew up in the Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh Jewish community. On Sunday evening we, like many communities around the world, organised a community gathering for us to share, to listen, to pray, to sing and to mourn together. We heard our own native Pittsburgher and her sister talk movingly and painfully about those who had been murdered.
This time it was the turn of the Al-Husseini community to show up for us. And they did. Three members of their community came to stand with us. They observed our ritual, they listened to what was said and they offered words of comfort. One of their leaders, Mustafa Albalaghi, told us how important it is for them to be with us: he explained how we are all “brothers in humanity”.
Amidst our sorrow, pain and fear the presence of the representatives of the Al-Husseini association moved and comforted us. They showed us with their presence how an act of solidarity can push back against the fear and division that such attacks seek. Our own synagogue-community is founded upon gemilut chasidim (acts of kindness) – the principle that we can show up for each other at key moments in our lives. This habit of action can in turn teach us how to show up for other communities.
The phrase ‘Hashem yikom damam’ – ‘may God avenge their deaths’ is offered by our tradition as the verbal response to hearing of the murder of Jews for being Jews. This idea of vengeance is not, as Student Rabbi Lev Taylor teaches, about enacting a cycle of violence. Instead it is about affirming who we are – being more Jewish, more different. Our friends’ act of solidarity taught us another side of what it might mean to ‘avenge’ the murders. As we had hoped to do for them on Yom Kippur, they did for us: they countered the divisive intentions of the attack by showing up for us and saying, in the words of our friend Mustafa, that an attack on one is an attack on all.
Listen to this week’s episode of the Jewish Views Podcast, focusing on Pittsburgh: