My dear Senators, it seems like it took place ages ago, but how soon we forget that it was only recently that we marked four months since a deranged individual, filled with hate in his heart, marched into a synagogue and killed eleven innocent souls in Pittsburgh.
And while I could tell you that much for the Jewish community has changed–our security protocols are different, our sense of security is different, our lives are different–rather than focusing on the tragic element of Pittsburgh, which would be to emphasize difference, what I want to focus on this morning is a lesson about “sameness” that I hope can be helpful to you as you go to work in the Senate this morning.
Because how soon we forget–Pittsburgh taught us–in the midst of all of our disagreements, that we are all created betzelem elohim, in God’s image! How soon we forget that we are human beings first–all of us God’s children–given the gift to recognize there is so much more that brings us together than drives us apart!
Because in one way, you must understand that Pittsburgh for the Jewish people was nothing new. Jews have had a history of dealing with violence in societies where we were told we were not the same, and we watched as that focus on difference drove those societies apart. In Europe before the Holocaust, there were pogroms, attacks against Jews, instigated by clergy who from their pulpits declared Jews were different. On Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass leading up to the Shoah, the Holocaust, Nazis burned down Jewish synagogues and Jewish businesses not alone, but encouraged by the police who said we were too different.
However, what we saw after Pittsburgh was how despite the hateful act of one lone individual, our country came together and was strengthened. Because we declared through our actions that we are all really all the same. Unlike Europe, we did not see the police in Pittsburgh exploiting difference: we saw brave officers running toward the shooting to save Americans. We saw the GBI, Cobb County police, and Homeland Security offer their help to Etz Chaim to assist in our preparedness in recent months. And unlike Europe, we did not see anti-Semitic clergy claiming we are different, but an outpouring of support: to the point where a Priest, an Imam, a Pastor, and a Sikh Scholar joined me in my sanctuary on the next Shabbat morning and we prayed together. And it was on that day that we declared together that there must be no difference political, religious, or otherwise so great that it was worth dividing us apart.
My prayer this morning, dear friends, for you is really quite simple. And that is, if a priest, a pastor, a rabbi, a Sikh, and an Imam, can gather in a synagogue, and declare how much we are the same, my dear Senators, I pray that so can all of you, in this hallowed chamber, find a sense of unity and common purpose.
There are undoubtedly forces in our society who would encourage us to exploit difference and to demonize the other as a surefire path to victory. But what Pittsburgh reminds us is that there is just too much at stake for us to act that way. We must look to disagree without disrespect, and to find common cause with one another, because that is what all Georgians want–whether we live in St. Marys or Dalton to Columbus or East Cobb–to remember that we are all the same, created betzelem elohim, in the image of God.
And so let us conclude with the words of the Book of Psalms: Vayhinoam Adonai Eloheinu…May the creator of us all bless bless the work of your hands–And God will bless the work of your hands–should those hands be united, holding onto one another, in common purpose together. Amen.