As we gather here tonight, we are still in shock. We are hurting. Even though I did not know those who were murdered, I feel as if I do. As I have read about them from friends who did know them, they were the regulars – those who show up to greet people, to create a welcoming atmosphere, to make sure there is a minyan, a quorum for the service.
Those people are found in every synagogue and church – they are the backbone of our communities.
This is also a chilling reminder that anti-Semitism still exists. We may have thought we were moving beyond it, but this week and the last few years, have, unfortunately, reminded us that this ancient hate does not seem to go away. Scratch the surface and there it is.
And it is triggered by hateful speech and rhetoric. The Mishnah some 2,000 years ago warns leaders – hakhamim, hizaharu vidivreikhem (Avot 1:11) – leaders, be careful with your words.
Watch what you say, be careful how you communicate. If you foment hate, it will lead certain individuals to commit acts of violence and hate.
We have just experienced two weeks of that. Hate led to an individual to send pipe bombs, to the murders of two African-Americans in Kentucky, who were killed simply because they are black, and the commission of this most heinous act in Pittsburgh.
If leaders in our country spew hate, this is the devastating result.
And this unites three major issues for our community: anti-Semitism, immigration, and gun violence.
Not only is it a stark reminder of the unique hatred of anti-Semitism, but the Tree of Life synagogue was targeted because it was on a list for HIAS’ [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] list for National Refugee Shabbat – a Shabbat when we heard from speakers about the importance of immigration, of caring for those who need refuge.
Both Temples Emunah and Isaiah participated in National Refugee Shabbat a couple of weeks ago. As Emma Lazarus wrote, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free….” This poem reminds us how to treat immigrants – we must not demonize them, we should treat people with kindness, all people.
And finally, the scourge of gun violence. This is an issue that continues to devastate our country unlike many other places. And this is because we do not have federal laws in place to protect us.
In our great Commonwealth we do, but nationally we do not. Since the federal assault weapons ban was not renewed, we have experienced more and more of these horrific mass shootings with AR-15 assault style weapons. Shame on all those responsible for this.
It is frightening to live in a country where such hate exists and can be acted upon. It has been happening to many groups – to different faith groups, to various ethnicities. We can draw a line from the shooting in the Charleston church to Sutherland Springs, Texas to Pittsburgh.
Something that was inconceivable a few years ago, has become more and more common.
While the climate in America has chilling echoes of an older anti-Semitism, this time it’s very different.
Unlike the police in Germany before and during the Holocaust, who were ordered into civilian clothes to destroy Jewish properties, our brave police officers run into the line of fire to save Jews.
Unlike other faiths who did not stand by their Jewish sisters and brothers, today, we have received cards, letters, calls and texts from all different faith groups – Catholics, Protestants, Evangelical Christian, Unitarians, Muslims, Hindus – that they are proud to stand with us at this time means the world to us and makes this a moment to build bridges, even stronger bridges, between our communities.
Let us hold fast to our core values of civility and kindness that is part of all our faith traditions and let this terrible attack be a goad to increase our bonds as a community, creating new hope and light for us all and let us all say: Amen.
May the memories of…..
1. Joyce Fienberg, 75, of Oakland, City of Pittsburgh
2. Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township
3. Rose Mallinger, 97, of Squirrel Hill
4. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood Borough
5. David Rosenthal, 54, of Squirrel Hill
6. Cecil Rosenthal, 59, of Squirrel Hill (David’s brother)
7. Bernice Simon, 84, of Wilkinsburg
8. Sylvan Simon, 86, of Wilkinsburg (Bernice’s husband)
9. Daniel Stein, 71, of Squirrel Hill
10. Melvin Wax, 88, of Squirrel Hill
11. Irving Younger, 69, of Mt. Washington, City of Pittsburgh …. be for a blessing.