Though I usually begin my letters to you with a wish for peace, it has never been more important for me to do so than today. I am sickened by the hatred, violence and murder that overwhelmed the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. And I am sickened by Nazi march in Charlottesville, and by the murder of people in a South Carolina church during bible study, and by the murder of two people in a mosque in New York City, and by pipe bombs mailed to terrorize our political and civic leaders. The Jewish people in Pittsburgh are my people, and so are the others who have been terrorized and murdered because of their religion, race, political view, gender identity or sexual orientation.
To answer this violence with “we will pray for you,” is good but insufficient. To answer this violence with, to paraphrase our national leadership, ‘the synagogue should have had better security inside,’ pours fuel on the fire and begs for greater violence. Listen to the rabbis teach in Pirkei Avot 5: 1 that “The sword comes into the world because of justice delayed and justice denied.”
We are responsible! Each of us, singularly and collectively is responsible. And we are empowered to act in ways that can help to bring more civility and decency into our world.
1. Vote! Vote for who inspires you to fulfill the mitzvah of love your neighbor as yourself. Vote for who helps you to see greater possibilities than hatred and division. As horrific as these acts of violence are, they also are predictable. Racism, anti-Semitism and other brands of hatred has been introjected into our public discourse and this stimulates and enables deadly action against one another. The Torah teaches repeatedly to “be kind to the stranger.” Vote for those who accept and even celebrate the differences and who desire justice.
2. Have compassion for yourself and act with compassion towards others. The Torah is filled with mitzvoth about being kind to the stranger. Justice can be a difficult mitzvah to fulfill and often entails extended struggle. To be an Israelite is to struggle. We are G!d wrestlers and this includes how we work to bring justice and peace into the world.
3. I hope that our community, Or Ahavah, will become involved in at least one interfaith dialogue this coming year. In the past two years, I personally have presented at an interfaith gathering at both a mosque and a church. I welcome any ideas that you may have. Please send them to me or to the entire community to discuss.
4. I feel, as you may, that I am so tiny compared to massive problems. Remembering the wisdom of Rabbi Tarfon in Pirkei Avot 1:15 helps me and I offer it in hopes that it helps you: “The day is short, the work is much, ….It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.”