Last Shabbat, Squirrel Hill became the site of another Jewish massacre. The unthinkable happened in our backyard in our time. This is Trump’s America. Now that American Jews have been specifically targeted, with our commitment to welcoming the stranger the focus of the killer’s rage, will the American People finally wake up and see the demagogue within our midst? Can the citizens of this democracy finally understand that the American carnage predicted by Trump is here, emboldened by his poisonous rhetoric, empowered by easy access to weapons of war?
In an act of solidarity with the Jewish People, political leaders from the State of Israel are in Pittsburgh, offering support and comfort. May I suggest that there is more that the leaders of Israel could offer to the American People at this time of national trauma. How about a lesson in modern history from the Holy Land, a specific example of the power of words. Imagine if Israel’s leaders were to tell the story of what occurred the evening of November 4, 1995 in Tel Aviv when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was asassinated by Yigal Amir. Those who remember, remember that it was the hate-filled, poisonous, religiously fueled rhetoric, coming from right-wing religious and political leaders, demonizing the Prime Minister, that inspired Yigal Amir to murder Yitzhak Rabin. It is unrealistic to expect Israel’s current government to teach that lesson; however, We the Jewish People can raise our voices, loud and clear, and exclaim to the American people that hateful rhetoric has no place in our Public Square. We, the Jewish People, know from far too much experience, that violent words lead to violent actions.
Last Sunday evening in Tel Aviv, on our way to dinner, the bus filled with Clevelanders drove past Kikar Rabin, the site of Rabin’s final minutes of life and of his death. There was a large crowd gathered to honor Rabin’s 23rd yartzeit that evening. I remember that day like it was yesterday. That evening was the annual fundraiser for the children’s day school, now known as the Mandel Jewish Day School, and we knew we could not cancel the event. Like last night at Ansche Chesed here in New York and throughout Jewish communities in America, we needed to be together that evening of November 4, so many years ago. Just as the Jewish world changed forever that night, so the Jewish world has changed forever in the wake of the Tree of Life attack.
It is obvious to this Jewish activist what comes next – the lessons from the Holy Land are clear and direct. Hateful speech must stop and we Jews must lead the way in changing the tenor and tone of the national conversation. Tolerance, respect and an openness to the Other must continue to be core Jewish values, values that Western civilization has claimed and that America has enshrined into our founding documents. We must band together to demand that our society be a safe society once again. Unlike Israel, the United States is NOT surrounded by hostile enemies. There is no good reason for automatic weapons of war to be on the streets in America. The core Jewish value to choose life demands that we raise our voice for reasonable gun legislation. To eradicate hate is a monumental task; to legislate that weapons of war be off our streets takes a political movement. My sense is that the organized Jewish world, having been attacked in Pittsburgh, will look at what role we can play in creating a safe society once again.
The Jewish People have been destined to play a role in civilization from the moment G-d, Abraham and Sarah entered into a sacred covenant. During these dark days, may we find our voice, drowning out the sound of the demagogue within our midst, affirming the values that define us as American Jews. And, let us remember the lesson from the Holy Land. Evil words lead to evil deeds. In the memory of the 11 Jews who died last Shabbat in Squirrel Hill, let us teach that lesson throughout the land.