Remarks Delivered at Beth Israel Congregation Shabbat morning, November 3, 2018
Shabbat Shalom and B’ruchim Hab’aim.Welcome! It is truly a blessing to see so many from the community here this morning at Beth Israel.
In the Jewish tradition, mourning is a process, a journey. In the wake of last week’s attack in Pittsburgh, I want to share some thoughts on where I believe this journey of mourning the unspeakably tragic murder of 11 of our brothers and sisters should lead us.
Our rabbis taught that the Jewish people can be compared to a lamb. A lamb is so tender, so delicate, that if it slightly injures even one part of its body, its entire body quivers with pain. Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Ba Zeh, All of our people are intertwined one with the other and we feel the pain of one as the pain of all. It is that value, that principle, which motivates us to care for Jews anywhere our people are in danger. It is why we felt and continue to feel the attack on Tree of Life Synagogue as an attack on all of us. Deep in our kishkes, deep in our hearts and deep in our souls, we feel the pain, the mourning, the agony.
But, what is taught about Jews is not unique to our people. It is one of the values this great nation claims to be built on. It is what it should mean to be an American, this one nation “indivisible with liberty and justice for all”. Each of us is an integral part of the fabric of this nation and the pain of one individual or one community should bring pain to all of us.
Many in our American Jewish community have expressed deep concern about how this horrible attack affects the future for Jews in America, this country which has been so good to us for so long. We see a nation that looks different to us, as Jews, than it did last week or last year or two years ago and different than the nation most of us have known throughout our adult lives.
That is absolutely true. It is different.
However, it is important that we realize the truth that it is not just different for us; it is different for everyone. We don’t recognize this country in so many ways. The United States today is a nation infected by blatant and open hatred, baseless suspicion, extreme nationalism and relentless gun violence and this atmosphere affects every person who has ever been thought of as the “other” and therefore it affects each and every person who lives in this nation.
My friends, I will say it simply. As a Jew, I am not going to give up on this country or our place in it. I believe that we absolutely have a strong, secure future in America. But, that assumes that as we respond with tears, with anger, with resolve, we do it not just for our people and our community but also with concern for the future of everyone in this nation. And that means that while we obviously should react to this horrendous crime as Jews, we must react just as passionately as Americans, for this was not only a Jewish tragedy, it, like so many other horrendous attacks was an American tragedy.
We must commit ourselves to standing with every threatened community just as we have welcomed their standing with us and certainly the experience of the past week has been so comforting and heartening. We must commit ourselves to feeling the pain of others, as we feel the pain of our own. We must work for not only our own security but for the security, equality and dignity of all. We must stand up against the rhetoric, whether openly hostile or more subtly code-worded language. We must take a public and vocal stand against actions, in place or proposed, that vilify or ostracize or demonize people, whether because of religion, race, gender identification, sexual orientation, or ethnic origin.
We mourn for the victims as Jews. It was a terrible tragedy for our people. But, it was more than that. We must move forward from this point joining hands with all who have been victims or may be victims in the future. They are us.
And, now we know, if we didn’t before last Shabbat, we are them.
Finally, let me add one last point. Solidarity Shabbat is a fantastic idea and I am glad so many are here to show solidarity with our people.
But, we must not only show solidarity with a people, we must also show solidarity with the covenant that is our gift to the world, the millennia-old obligations which link our people to greater heights and welcome in our better angels.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Remember that you were once slaves.
Care for the stranger and the orphan.
Care for the children.
Seek peace and pursue it.
What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor.
Recognize the image of God in every person.
Care for our earth.
Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.
This is where our solidarity must be expressed. Solidarity with those obligations and so many other principles is the challenge we must accept and reflect in our daily lives. We must join hands with others in this nation and in this world, who, even if they use different language, share the same basic hope in a better future.
May God grant strength and safety to our people and grant peace to our people and all who live here in the United States.
May the memory of the victims of the attack in Pittsburgh and all of those who have been victims of hatred anywhere in the country serve as a constant inspiration and a perpetual reminder that we have so much work to do. Let us do the work with passion, perseverance and strength.