In the time that has passed since the unthinkable events in Pittsburgh, we have tried to support the families of those senselessly killed or injured, thanked the first responders who daily put their lives at risk for all of us, tried to come to grips with what the shootings mean to our existence and safety in the United States, and wondered to whether the world might be or become what it was before World War II. But it is now time to do something more, if we are to give meaning to the tragedy.
October 27 must be a turning point. Life cannot just go back to the way it was. This was not just another shooting, mass murder or terrorist act. For Jews in America and around the world, it has to be something much more – it is a day like others that have rallied a community and our entire country for change. It is the internment of Asia-Americans out of fear in World War II; it is Rosa Parks on a bus; it is Cesar Chavez staging a sit-in at a farm; it is Matthew Shepherd being tied to a fence. It should be that significant. Each of these other events may have started as something that impacted a group, race, gender or ethnicity, but each transcended as catalysts for our country becoming a better place. What started as harm, led to hope.
We can make sure this happens. First, we have rallied to come to synagogue and show our kinship with those in Pittsburgh and Jews around the world. We do so proudly, without fear and with a statement that says we have been here for nearly 6000 years and will be here forever more. But, this should not be a one-time event. We all saw that almost all who lost their lives at Tree of Life were seniors. The question there and for us is who will fill their empty seats. No matter whether you are someone who has come to worship only once a year on the highest holidays or come all the time, add another Friday, shabbat or lesser holiday to your life. If you have not yet made sure there is a mezzuzah on your doors, so people know we obey the sacred shema prayer and are proud to do it, do not delay in getting that done. Do not be embarrassed to show signs of our faith – be it kippah at appropriate events, shabbat or hannukah candles in our windows or a chai around our necks. Everyone can do one thing to increase our identification with being jewish without interfering with our beliefs, our politics or our busy schedules.
And one thing more. We can find fault and blame our leaders, political parties, the media or everyone else for the climate that made that horror possible. There is no doubt that there is plenty of blame to go around. Maybe, this week will make all of those others take better stock of the words they say or write or send out on the internet. But we must do better ourselves. We can be more welcoming to ideas in our own shuls, schools and homes. There is room in the big Jewish tent to discuss our faith or events in Israel without making one side wrong and the other right. But how we do this matters. Too often we fuel the very strong feelings that are routinely expressed on the hateful internet when we call those with whom we disagree in our community the same putrid names that make us recoil when spoken or posted by others. Our common denominator has been and must be that we are all Jews with the laws, beliefs and customs of thousands of years and that we all love Eretz Israel. Those two concepts shold be in the front of our minds no matter what our disagreements.
So, this has been an awful time. We literally ache for our fellow Jews in Pittsburgh. We feel a little less secure and a little less innocent. But if we see what last week can mean, we can be stronger as a community and a nation and with our larger family around the world. It was not random that someone who intended to rip at our faith attacked a synagogue on our holiest of days. And, therefore, it is appropriate the our synagogues will be the places where we fight back. As we say when we recite kaddish, “may all the lives lost last week be for a blessing”, but also as the day when our faith and resolve were strengthened.
Abbe David Lowell is a Washington attorney. He spoke at Congregation B’nai Tzedek on Nov. 3.