A Response to Pittsburgh

The following is a summary of my remarks at our Shaare Tefila vigil held on Sunday morning October 28.

It is difficult for me to stand before you this morning. Though I've conducted tragic funerals and have responded to horrific events around the world I've never had to respond to such a violent and heinous act of antisemitism. We take for granted the freedom that we as a Jewish community have in America. Ever since President George Washington affirmed, in a letter to the synagogues in America in 1789, that America would give to "bigotry no sanction" we Jews have been blessed with unique opportunities. Outside of Israel since 1948, America has been the only place where Jews have been treated as equals and as a result we have thrived. So when such a violent act occurs in rocks us to our core and reminds us of our long history of oppression and persecution.

In a tragic irony the Torah portion that was read this past shabbat has served as the model for response to events such as Pittsburgh. The binding of Isaac and his last second reprieve from his father's knife was a source of inspiration and comfort to millions of Jewish martyrs over the centuries. From the Crusades to the Cossacks to the Nazis Jews were slaughtered and went to there death thinking of Isaac on the altar. They were killed in the sanctification of God's name. 

However, many of us though disturbed and upset by this history of martyrdom would prefer a different model of reaction. And just a few chapters before Isaac's near death experience Abraham argued with God about the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Instead of taking the news as a fait accompli (as Noah did when told to build the ark and Adam and Eve did when told to leave the Garden of Eden) Abraham instead reacted and charged God "השופט כל הארץ לא יעשה משפט - the judge of all the earth shouldn't act justly?!" It is that model that we Jews should follow today. We need to rise up to challenge of hate in our society. We should respond to the incredible rise in the number of antisemitic acts across the country. We should continue to be advocates for social justice. We need to carry the message of the sign on our front lawn - hate has no home here - to as many venues and as many programs as possible. We need to ensure that our elected officials do all they can to keep weapons out of the hands of those who spew hatred and ensure that all houses of worship are the safe havens they are supposed to be.

The core of our Torah is "love your neighbor as you would be loved". May that message carry us forward in everything we do.