The days since Shabbat have been a time of sadness: vigils around the country, listening to members talk about their grief and fear, their love and respect for the holiness of synagogue and community.
As we are drawn into the next Shabbat, it is different from most. It's a time of shivah, of mourning for our 11 fellow Jews who were murdered doing what we love to do in our own community: gathering for Shabbat fellowship, prayer, and Torah. It's a time of mourning for their precious families and their shattered community, both the three congregations that meet under one roof - Tree of Life, New Light, and Dor Hadash - and the larger Jewish community that centers around the normally peaceful neighborhood of Squirrel Hill. It's a time of mourning and loss for Jews all over America and worldwide, because we are all one family.
Grief may combine with shock and fear. We are shocked that this anti-Semitic massacre has happened here in America, the worst attack on Jews on American soil. Unfortunately many are not so shocked that another mass shooting has happened, because such events have become a terrible and unhealed part of American culture.
I think that the first thing that we should do is to support one another and not succumb to divisiveness because we focus on this or that aspect of the whole picture. As Rabbi Menachem Creditor, Scholar in Residence of UJA-Federation wrote, "Some see this as primarily an expression of anti-Semitism, which it is. Others also understand this in the context of American gun violence and white supremacy, which not only affects Jews." Indeed, it is both of those things and both must be addressed. Recognizing one does not diminish the importance of the other.
One of our congregants asked me, how do we go forward now? I turn back to the words of Hillel that we studied last year on the High Holidays: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"
We go forward by combating anti-Semitism, continuing to do the things that our community learned to do after the Holocaust, and supporting the organizations that are experts in doing them. The long-term, unglamorous work that groups like the AJC, ADL, and United States Holocaust Museum have done to build coalitions and raise awareness bears results and deserves our support.
We go forward by working for connection and tolerance in a time of deep division. I continue to affirm that we can only be for ourselves as Jews in America of 2018 when we realize that we are interconnected with the rest of society, and in particular with other minority groups (being aware our own Jewish population is racially and ethnically diverse). The current rise in hatred, xenophobia and intolerance hurts all of us.
It is not just a matter of enlightened self-interest. The Torah demands the mitzvot to love our neighbor, love the stranger, and pursue justice. That’s why we see Jewish groups and individuals so engaged in civil and immigrant rights, and forming new alliances with other minority groups, notably those with Muslim Americans. These alliances have born fruit as Jewish communities have been surrounded by loving neighbors during this time of trial, including Musim Americans who raised money to help Jewish victims.
As Professor Sarah Tauber told me, Hillel’s famous saying, encompassing being for ourselves and for others, “is not a segregation model or a zero-sum. Racists say the opposite of Hillel: ‘If I am for others, I lose.’ Jewish tradition is the anti-zero sum. If we are for others, we are for ourselves as well.”
Finally, we go forward by being proud, active, and engaged Jews. Terrorists, whatever their stripe, aim to make us cower with fear and avoid life. Thanks to the UJA-Federation for declaring a Solidarity Shabbat, and the AJC for starting #ShowUpForShabbat campaign, not just this week but every week. Read More
To quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." In this week's Torah portion, we read that Abraham mourns the death of his wife, Sarah. He mourns and cries, but then he turns to finding a wife for Isaac and ensuring the next generation. That is the Jewish way: to feel the grief, to express our pain, and then to choose life and to take the actions that affirm life and love.
With love and support,
Rabbi Julie H. Danan
Former PCS Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan shares her thoughts (and some original photos) and invites your comments.