In the shadow of the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, an attack on a synagogue is particularly chilling. But this was not Kristallnacht. When the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was attacked, people from all over poured in to help. Four police officers were wounded trying to protect the Jews. “We are here for you as a community of one,” the mayor of Pittsburgh told the grieving community.
In fact, as overwhelming as the grief and fear of the shooting was, the love in response has been almost more so. A group of non-Jews in my town have set up an event they are calling “Together, We Stand for One Another.” They are planning to array themselves along the perimeter of our synagogue, facing outwards, to stand vigil as we hold our Friday evening services this week. There is no real need for this – this town has long been a bastion of interfaith solidarity. But the show of support and love is overwhelming. As of this writing, more than 400 people have expressed interest in joining this vigil.
What should we do with this combination: the worst attack on the Jewish community this nation has ever seen and what may be the greatest outpouring of love the Jewish community in America has ever seen?
Should we increase our security? Perhaps. Should we hide who we are and what we believe so that the terrorists will be less likely to bother us? Absolutely not. Should we return the outpouring of love with all that is in us? Most definitely.
Because we love
The racist, antisemitic terrorist who attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh hated us for more than our Judaism. He targeted this particular synagogue because they had openly supported HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. HIAS was established in 1881 as an organization to aid Jewish refugees. In the era of Kristallnacht, HIAS offices in Europe helped Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied areas resettle in other parts of Europe and in America.
Since then, HIAS has expanded their mission to help not only Jewish but also non-Jewish refugees across the globe, including refugees coming to the US from South and Central America. HIAS’ mission of helping refugees fleeing violence no matter who they are or from where they come is what angered the Pittsburgh shooter.
In other words, he hated us because we love. He attacked us because we are doing everything we can to help other people.
The best way to honor our dead and all those who have come out to support us is to continue to be who we are: people who help others.
The wisdom of history
As a Holocaust educator, I look to the past to guide my responses to current events. A fellow educator, almost 80 years ago, stood in the Warsaw Ghetto and was impressed by the resilience of the Jewish people.
“There is within us some hidden power, mysterious and secret, which keeps us going,” Chaim Kaplan wrote in his diary. “It is a marvelous, life-preserving power that … our people have received as a blessing. The strength of this power lies in the very nature of the Jew, which is rooted in our eternal tradition that commands us to live.”
Our tradition teaches us to be a people who celebrate all life: “You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” We are commanded to provide light wherever there is suffering, to comfort the widow and orphan, and the stranger in our midst. We are commanded to stand for what is right: “Justice, justice you shall pursue.”
Vocal torchbearers of love
We will not be changed by the hate-filled attacks of small-minded people. We will not hide who we are. We will continue to be vocal about love and acceptance. We will continue to do everything we can to help those who need our help. We will not allow hateful people to scare us into hiding our love of other people.
Our friends and neighbors have shown us the way. They have stood by our side. They have made it clear that this sort of hateful behavior is not acceptable in our society.
As they have stood up for us, we will stand up for others and prove that love is stronger than hate.
 Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, a nationwide pogrom in Germany, occurred on November 9-10, 1938.
 C.A. Kaplan, Megilat Yissurin – Yoman Getto Varsha (Scroll of Agony – Warsaw Ghetto Diary), September 1, 1939 – August 4, 1942, Tel Aviv-Jerusalem, 1966, pp. 201-202. From the Jewish Virtual Library: www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/warsaw-ghetto-diary-of-chaim-a-kaplan.
 Deuteronomy 10:19
 Deuteronomy 16:18. The rabbis consider the repetition of the word “justice” to lend emphasis to this commandment.