Tonight We Mourn

Today is one of the darkest days in the Jewish community’s history since our people came to the shores of this country. That our people are murdered in our houses of worship is as horrifying as it is revolting. Our hearts break in deep mourning for the loss of life, for the families destroyed by this barbaric act, for the Pittsburgh Jewish community scarred forever by the unspeakable violence of antisemitic rhetoric made manifest.

American Jews have seen acts of antisemitism rise 57% in 2017. In our schools and on college campuses, our children witness ever-growing antisemitic propaganda, that translates into having their lockers defaced with swastikas, or their comrades freely telling anti-Jewish jokes. Our synagogues, community centers and even cemeteries have been targeted, our people accosted in our streets. Today’s shooting further highlights what we’ve known all along, that the inflammatory rhetoric and incitement to violence against minorities by the President of this nation is not only destroying the very social fabric of our society, but it is literally life-threatening.

“What now?” Our response to this unraveling must be strong and principle-centered. Our tradition states that Pikuach Nefesh—Saving Lives, is the highest of all duties, exceeding in importance all the other commandments of our faith. Defeating this current administration, countering the rise of antisemitism, racism, sexism, and homophobia—to name but a few—that has come in its wake is now a matter of Pikuach Nefesh, not only for the Jewish people, but for all minorities of color, religion and gender, for women, and for the very survival of all species. We can no longer wait and hope, we must act now. We have German synagogue records from the 1930’s of the Jewish community rabbis and leaders writing that the German constitution would protect Jews, that the enlightened German people would never allow anything to happen to “its Jews,” that fascism was a fad that would disappear in the next election. Those next elections never came. Hope is a dangerous illusion that we can ill afford.

Lo aleicha ha-m’lacha ligmor… reminds us Pirkei Avot: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” [2:21] All of us can and must do something. This Shabbat’s Torah portion,Vayeira, began with Abraham welcoming strangers into his tent, washing their feet and feeding them. Welcoming the migrant is a key value of our people as we, too, “were strangers in a foreign land.” [Ex. 22:21] HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, of which Bet Alef is a member, is in the trenches upholding this Jewish principle, and challenging the immigration policies of this administration. HIAS’ work was a trigger for the fanaticism of the racist perpetrator of this act of terror against the members of the Tree of Life synagogue. Bet Alef and its partners in the Jewish community will not be deterred, nor will we stand idly by while minorities are being marginalized and otherized. We will continue to be a voice for the voiceless, a home for the silenced and the excluded. Their fate and ours are inextricably intertwined. A matter of Pikuach Nefesh.