April 1, 2020

Response to Pittsburgh? Let’s Go to Shul This Shabbat

A view of the KAM Isaiah Israel Synagogue in 2013. Photo by Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

What is the proper response to Pittsburgh? Grief, yes. Sorrow, yes. Anger, yes. Resolve, yes. Unity, yes.  Surprise, no. Fear, no. My dear rabbi, Rabbi David Wolpe, likes to say that we in America live in a golden age of Judaism after 2,000 years of persecution, fear, torture, murder, hiding and being on the run from land to land.  Now we are living in a country where we are generally treated with warmth and respect by our Christian, Muslim and other non-Jewish neighbors, friends and strangers. We need to be grateful for this.

During the martyrology service this year on Yom Kippur I reflected on how our forebears dared to worship in public, despite Roman orders not to, and paid the ultimate price for it, sometimes in unbelievably cruel ways. Yet the synagogue I attended was nearly empty. It’s a funny thing about freedom — some things we just take for granted. I do. We all do.

Two other prayers stood out for me during the same service. One prayer was for our fellow Jews in other places who are being persecuted. Miraculously, I could not think of one country where this is systematically occurring on a daily basis. Anti-Semitism, yes. But active persecution –even in countries that don’t particularly like us — no, partly because we have been driven out of many countries and are choosing to leave others, because finally after 2 millennia we have a choice. Perhaps it is because we have the United States on our side and countries would face sanctions and far worse. Perhaps because we ourselves have the will and means with which to fight back.

The other prayer is that we should be in Israel next year. But how many Jews have never been to Israel, actively criticize it, don’t support it or don’t stand up to the insidious anti-Semitism that is the BDS movement or to the bullying of our children on their college campuses? As I said, some things we just take for granted.

“By going to synagogue this Shabbat, we can show our resolve and we can thank God for living in such a wonderful country.”

I do not mean to imply that I am saying I am “religious.” I am not, by standard measures, but I am proudly a Jew. I was reading the Wall Street Journal Saturday morning when I happened to see a friend’s text about “what happened in Pittsburgh.”  So the first thought I had, after I had the chance to digest the news, is that I should have been in synagogue that day and I vowed that I would next Shabbat. I texted my kids and told them they should go, too. My brother asked me if we had armed security at our synagogue. The answer happens to be yes, but I go to a high-profile temple (I do not wish to get into the politics of that whole issue except to say that I think we could all agree that no one needs a personal arsenal of military assault weapons). Not every synagogue might make this choice, and law enforcement has vowed to increase its presence. The good news is that 99.99% of Americans are not sociopathic anti-Semitic killers with personal arsenals. So our response shouldn’t be fear.

My suggested response to Pittsburgh? Let’s go to shul this Shabbat.  Let’s fill up ALL the synagogues this Shabbat. Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, LGBT, it doesn’t matter. If you normally go to synagogue, bring your children. If they usually go, have them bring their friends. Bring your friends. Bring your neighbors. By going to synagogue this Shabbat, we can show our resolve and we can thank G-d for living in such a wonderful country. By doing so, we can exercise our precious First Amendment rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly all at the same time.

G-d bless America and the Jewish people.


Dr. Joel Geiderman is the former vice-chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and is the California chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition.