Terror in Pittsburgh

Image: Pittsburgh cityscape (mgehring/pixabay)

I am sick at heart.

I do not usually post on Shabbat morning, but I see that many people are looking on this blog. Perhaps you are looking for comfort, or strength, or for some way to understand the events in Pittsburgh this morning.

CNN reports as I write this that a man walked into services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, carrying a gun. He shouted that he wanted Jews to die. He shot at least 12 people and four people are dead.  When the local police arrived, he shot at them, hitting some of them, and then was taken into custody alive.

Baruch Dayan Ha’emet – Blessed is the true Judge. I grieve for the dead, for the families of the dead. I pray that those who are injured are able to heal quickly and completely.

Police are beginning their investigation, which will likely go on for some time. They want to find out if this person is associated with others, and look for how we can make events like these less likely in future. They need to put together the evidence to convict this man of his crimes. Good.

In 1999 I was a member of Temple Sinai in Oakland, CA. I was out of town, and when I heard on the news that three “Northern California synagogues had been firebombed,” I was terrified. It was the first time I, as a Jew, had heard of an attack on my community, not on Jews in other times and places, but here and now. It was my first experience of violent anti-Semitism.

TodayI would be able to get a lot of information instantly, but in 1999 the Internet and CNN were not what they are now. Eventually I found out that it wasn’t my shul, it was three Sacramento synagogues. Congregation B’nai Israel in Sacramento had had the worst of it, a firebombing. The other two synagogues were vandalized but damage was much less.

I will never forget what my rabbi, Rabbi Steve Chester, said to me. “The things you want to watch at a time like this, ” he said, “Are ‘how long did it take the police to come? How long before the fire department? What did the public officials say?’ Because unfortunately there have always been and will always be people who hate Jews, but as long as the community is with us, as long as our neighbors see us as their neighbors, we are going to be all right.” He continued, “If the police are slow to come, or don’t care, then we have a larger problem and we should worry.”

There have always been and there will always be people who hate Jews. I am going to write more posts on anti-Semitism in the coming days, but what I want to say today is that I am reassured that the police came immediately and the news coverage of this terrible event has been sympathetic to the Jews, not the murderer. We can pay attention and take comfort in that.

This horror was intended to frighten us, whether the gunman was a lone anti-Semite or part of an organization. If we react with fear, staying away from synagogues, hiding signs of our Jewishness, we will give him a victory he does not deserve. It is natural that it is our first reaction, but it must not be our final reaction.

As a community we need to embrace our cousins at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh with love and sorrow as they grieve their dead and deal with their own wounds. As a community we must strengthen the security at our own synagogues and institutions. As a community we need to tell the anti-Semites, “No. We will not allow you to terrify us. We will go on doing mitzvot, living our lives, because we will not make a false god of you or the terror you bring our way.”

This is a terrible day. We ache for the families of those who were killed. We ache for the wounded and their families. But I pray that we will not let one evil man sway us from our task as Jews: to live lives of Torah despite it all.

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