November 19, 2018

Community Reactions to Pittsburgh Shooting

In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings, the Journal asked leaders of our community to provide words of comfort, advice and inspiration, hoping their ideas will help us move forward with sensitivity, purpose and unity. 

Despite Differences, We Are One
The tragedy at Tree of Life is a stark reminder that, despite our Jewish community’s religious or political differences, we are, above all else, a family with a shared destiny. The shooter looked to harm Jews — not specifically Orthodox or Reform, religious or secular, Ashkenazic or Sephardic, conservative or progressive. When it comes to anti-Semitism, we are one. I pray that this tragedy will be a turning point for our community, in which we strive to always treat each other like the brothers and sisters that we are, regardless of how we vote, the views we hold, or how we practice our faith. Otherwise, the murder of our 11 family members will have been in vain.

Sam Yebri, president/co-founder, 30 Years After

Our Ancient Muscles Help Us Deal With Anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism is not about you or me. It is not your fault that they hate you. It is entirely theirs. Because, anti-Semitism is not really about Jews. We might be the object of hatred but we are not its true cause. Anti-Semitism is based on the ideas of scarcity and lack of control. Scarcity of resources, scarcity of grace and scarcity of power. It comes from a radical form of either/or thinking that says either “we” have all the power or “they” do. When “we” do not have power “we” do not have control. Anti-Semites externalize their loss of control to ask only, “Who did this to us,”; instead of the more important question, “What can I do differently?” It’s an easy way to distract them from deeper issues within a community. We as Jews know this type of anti-Semitism. We have two ancient muscles to deal with it. The first is pastoral: to open our hands and hearts to each other so we can, as Rav Kook said, conquer senseless hatred (sinat chinam) with boundless love (ahavat chinam). The other is prophetic: to make our Jewish values public. As it says in Micah, “What does the Lord require of you? To act with justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Finally, do not let anti-Semites define you. Do the work to define yourself. Remember, most of all, never apologize for loving your people. Never apologize for pursuing justice. Never apologize for loving Israel. Never, ever apologize for being a Jew.

Rabbi Noah Farkas, Valley Beth Shalom

Let the Tree of Life Guide Us
It is good in this moment to come together to comfort each other. We also come together to commit to making the memory of those who have been murdered a blessing. A blessing to stand against hate for our people, for all people, in all of its forms, rhetoric, and violence. We grab onto the Etz Chaim, the Tree of Life, and we hold it close and we let it guide the work of our hearts and our hands to make a better world.

Rabbi Susan Goldberg, Wilshire Boulevard Temple

Going High, in Memory of the Victims
“We go high when they go low.” “We have to answer hate with love.” That’s what many of our Jewish leaders are preaching. I so want to go there. And I will. But today that doesn’t feel like enough. It feels, well, naïve in the face of guns and pipe bombs. So, what do I want? I want rational gun laws. I want a leader who unequivocally demands civility from his followers and doesn’t wink at the extremists in his base with rhetoric that labels fellow Americans as “enemies”; a leader who does not joke about being a nationalist or there being “good people on both sides.” Maybe it’s only a dotted line from the White House to the three violent acts of hatred committed these past weeks, but as journalist Dahlia Lithwick points out, “People who hate Jews and immigrants and minorities believe that when they commit violence against these people, they are behaving as the followers their president wants them to be.” So, in memory of those murdered, I will try to go high. And I will vote.

Tzivia Schwartz Getzug, consultant and community activist

Faced with Hate, Lead with Love
Whether I speak as chair of the board of an organization that touches the lives of Jews in Los Angeles and around the world, or as a mother of five and grandmother of three, my reaction to the horrific events at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh is the same: when faced with hate, we must lead with love. When our hearts are broken because Jews are targeted by a senseless act of terror, we must heal them and stay strong. When the world goes crazy, we must turn to the teachings that are our birthright as Jews and persevere. We stand with Pittsburgh and we mourn the loss of life. And we stand together in Los Angeles to do all we can to stay safe and ensure a Jewish future for our children and grandchildren. That is the power of community. And we need it more than ever.

Julie Platt, chair of the board, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Jews Believe in the Worth and Dignity of Every Human Being
Perhaps the most remarkable fact to emerge in the assailant’s murderous violation of our sacred space, when a newly minted Jewish child was being named, was his special hatred for Jews due to our very essence as a people committed to immigrants. Proof? Torah’s holy triad of compassion, “the migrant, the widow and the orphan.” Yes, Mr. Bowers, I am a Jew. I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every human being on this planet, the worth of the planet itself, all manifestations of a God of justice. I will never waver, for even a second from this truth, saturating our sacred texts and seared upon our minds and hearts by the prophets Amos and Jeremiah: Our treatment of the downtrodden, the economically disadvantaged and the despised of our society defines our relationship with God. You, Mr. Bowers, and your minions, will not replace us.

Rabbi Jonathan D. Klein, executive director, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice: Building a Just and Sacred Society

The Kedoshim (Holy Ones) of Pittsburgh Must Unite Us

Our sages teach that when two brothers’ blood is spilled as one, it eclipses the sun (Sukkah 29b). Pittsburgh is a total eclipse of our sun. The enormous tragedy of 11 Jews murdered in synagogue on Shabbat cannot be explained away, compartmentalized or forgotten. Our synagogues are meant to be places of holiness, not places defiled by hate. In spite of our tears, anger and fear, we must never let Pittsburgh divide the Jewish community. We are all coping with intense emotions, dealing with grief in our own ways. However, if we let Pittsburgh divide one Jew from another, the kedoshim of Pittsburgh will have died in vain. Rather, in their sacred memory let us become angels of lovingkindness, turning tragedy into blessing, anger into compassion, fear into fellowship. 

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, co-founder, Pico Shul, Deanna and Allen Alevy Family Senior Rabbi in Community Outreach

Helping Our Kids Face the Unfathomable
I find the metaphor of the lighthouse useful for parents and educators: a stable beacon of light in uncertain conditions; a reliable landmark; a place to feel safe in a storm. Perhaps we ourselves are shaken as we hear and process the news. We lament that this isn’t the world we want for our children. We want to do everything in our power to protect them. But we can’t make the waters calm or the rocky shore less rugged. They have to be ready for the world. What we can do is shine a light to illuminate the small steps we can take to navigate successfully in dark times: support one another, speak out against intolerance, stand up for righteousness, be appropriately vigilant, muster our collective courage, and be a light for others.

Dr. Miriam Heller Stern, national director of the School of Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

Building Relationships Creates a Safety Net for Us All
In these moments of vulnerability, we may feel the desire to close ranks. This natural impulse is being exploited, but sowing division makes us — Jews and everyone — less safe. This is the moment to reach out past the Jewish community to find the people who will stand with us, and with whom we will stand. When I arrived at the vigil for Tree of Life, I spotted my Muslim friend Umar Hakim at the edge of the gathering. A man had come with a flag and signs to protest the vigil. So had a young man wearing a “Punch Nazis” T-shirt. As I approached, I could see Umar gently separating the two men and escorting the protester away from attendees. As the young man turned toward me, I could see his whole body tense and shaking. I spoke with him until his body and voice relaxed. This moment reminded me how reaching out and building relationships creates a safety net for all of us.

Andrea Hodos, program co-director, NewGround: Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change

Continue to be Beacons of Faith
In the wake of this terrible massacre we need to do all that we can to strengthen our faith, rather than allow it to become diminished. At the same time, we must do everything in our power to protect ourselves against the terrible hatred that targets Jews. We must do these things so that we may continue to be beacons of faith in a world that denies the value of faith, so that the true light of God can inspire those who seek inspiration and give strength to those who might falter.

Rabbi Pini Dunner, Young Israel of North Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills Synagogue

Turn to Each Other, Tradition and the Polls
Eleven praying Jews murdered on Shabbat. The tragic news sent chills through every Jewish community in the country and reverberations around the world. Our first reaction has to be one of shock, horror and grief. But as the hours stretch into days, we recognize additional insights: that anti-Semitism has been permitted to spew in public, as has violence and scorn for women, people with special needs, people of color, Muslims, LGBT people and others. Bigotry unbottled at the highest levels will spread. Words encouraging violence and brutality turn easily into acts of terror and bloodshed, magnified by the refusal to regulate the possession of weapons of war. Where do we turn for courage and hope? To each other, to our ancient tradition of wisdom and resilience, to the Holy One who desires life. Where do we turn for change and safety? To the polls and to renewed engagement in the democratic process. What defines success? Ancient Jewish visions and depictions of a messianic dignity and unity for all.

Rabbi Dr. Bradley Shavit Artson, Roslyn and Abner Goldstine Dean’s Chair & Professor of Philosophy, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University

Through Grief, Looking for Hope and Strength
Name a grief-related emotion and I’m feeling it. Anger and rage. Sadness and disgust. Confusion and dismay. Frustration and disbelief. Denial and despair. I want to blame it on Trump and then I feel stupid for wanting to blame it on Trump. I want to ignore it and then I feel shameful for being cowardly and thinking I could run from this. I want it to make sense, but then I remember: It doesn’t make sense. Grief never makes sense, and this kind of violence, perpetrated against innocents in a place of sanctuary, never makes sense. I miss innocence and peace. I miss my fantasies of this country, forged by my grandparents’ stories of escaping the Holocaust and arriving in a land where even Jewish immigrants could become anything. I miss this American dream that I was told to have before I’d even fully grasped what it really meant. Today my dreams became shadows of a nightmare that remains even when I am wide awake. As with grief, we get to move forward knowing that while our memories and the sadness will always be with us, so too our hope and strength can be our constant companions. Through compassion, dedication and truly being the change we wish to see in the world, we can have tikvah (hope) and shalom. Even though it seems so far away, it’s not. It’s been inside of all of us since the beginning of time.

Mayim Bialik, actress and neuroscientist

Condemn Hatred, Send Love and Strength
Even as we struggle to hold the enormity of this tragedy, even as we grieve, we must be clear-headed and unequivocal in naming and condemning the disease of hatred that has permeated the culture of our nation that paved the way for this attack, as well as the fanatical obsession with guns that allows hatred to turn deadly. Pittsburgh did not happen in a vacuum — it was the inevitable outcome of racialized hatred and anti-Semitism being fed, fueled and funded by those with a political agenda that literally puts our lives on the line. Over the past few years, America has turned from a place with a constant but quiet undercurrent of anti-Semitism to a place in which anti-Semitism is public, unabashed and condoned from the highest offices. We also know that the spike in anti-Semitism in America today is part of a broader cultural trend of hatred and demonization many minority communities are facing, whether they be Jews, Muslims, Latinos, Blacks, LGBTQ folks, immigrants or refugees. That’s why our multifaith partners stood with us this week, and we stand with them. Arm in arm, side by side, reclaiming — through our tears and our conviction — an America that treats every one of us with love, respect and dignity.

Rabbi Sharon Brous, IKAR