Response To Tree of Life Synagogue Tragedy

 

Response to Tragedy at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh from Rabbi Nancy


Like you I am heartbroken and enraged. 

Like you I am searching for how to breath in this unleashed air of hatred and fear. The toxic acts of hate that take place weekly within our country has created a fog so dense we can barely see. 

Reports are calling this the worst single attack on American Jews in the history of this country and it follows a slew of hate crimes and anti-Semitic incidents over the past several years targeting Jewish communities. 

We send our heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. This past Sunday our children in religious school made cards of solidarity and tenderness to the members of Tree of Life.  Rabbi Reuven Taff and I held an assembly where we invited the children to tell us first, what they had heard and secondly, what they were feeling. With counselors in the Sanctuary we made it clear that we were one family, and that our family extended from Sacramento to Pittsburgh.

While this unspeakable tragedy has shocked us, it is also an opportunity to remind ourselves of our non-Jewish friends who hold the same values we hold dear. The many, many messages of solidarity from our interfaith community affirms that we are not alone. 

Elie Wiesel said, “There may be times when are powerless to prevent injustice but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”  We call upon our representatives to demand that our leadership recognize that slaughter of innocent people will never be acceptable. We call upon all adults to vote in the mid term elections. The poisoned fog in which we are living must never be accepted as normal. To prevent complacency our voices must be heard.

Join me and the Jewish community and our many loyal friends of the non-Jewish community to mourn and to reaffirm our commitment to solidarity and sanity. Our memorial service will take place at Congregation B’nai Israel 7:00 p.m.

Even in our brokenness, ‘May our hearts be strong and filled with courage.” (Psalm 31:25)

Rabbi Nancy Wechsler
Congregation Beth Shalom

 

Remarks by Congresswoman Doris Matsui At the Community Wide Memorial Service Held On October 29th.

 
First, I want to thank B’nai Israel for welcoming us here tonight. B’nai Israel beginnings go back to the Gold Rush Days so it was always a prominent place for the community to come together to celebrate, to rejoice, to mourn, to seek comfort in times of doubt.
 
And, so here we are,
 
Let me bring you back to the East Room of the White House less than two years ago, on a day in December 2016 on which the family of Elie Wiesel gathered there under Gilbert Stuart’s iconic portrait of George Washington.  Wiesel—Holocaust survivor, author, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and national conscience—had died just a few months before.  His widow, Marion; his son, Elisha; and his grandchildren, Elijah and Shira, were present to help welcome Hanukkah.   The menorah lit in the White House that afternoon had been made by Shira—as the President noted, a young girl who, by her presence, proved that the Jewish people survive.
 
In more public remarks on Hanukkah that evening, the President, serving the last remaining days of his term, invoked his first predecessor, George Washington, who famously assured the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island, that the United States “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”  President Obama concluded, “The story of the [Jewish] community and the work you continue to do to repair the world forever reminds us to have faith that there are brighter days ahead.” 
 
And yet, here we are….
 
May I read you a joint statement from Sacramento’s congressional delegation 20 years ago?
 
“For many generations, Sacramento’s strength has been its extraordinarily resilient fabric, within our community, families, and people.  News today that the fabric of our community has been maliciously soiled with such a devastating act of hatred is as unwelcome as it is astonishing.  Today we join together to forthrightly condemn these acts and ask that our fellow Sacramentans use this opportunity to reflect upon the tremendous riches we share as a community.  Furthermore, we stand united in resolve to ensure that such acts of hatred and bigotry will not be tolerated, and those who commit them will be brought quickly to justice.”
 
As so many in this room remember, the year was 1999 and my late husband, Bob Matsui, shared those words jointly with three other area Members of Congress, who happened to be from another party.  Three synagogues, including this one, had been firebombed by two white supremacists.  Even as we struggled to comprehend that horror, we took pride at how our city—how our neighbors—embraced those who were threatened and lifted them up.  We had little doubt that anti-Semitic violence was an attack not just on Jews, but on all Americans.  We vowed never again.
 
And yet, here we are….
 
We are all here because we bleed for our brothers and sisters who were killed this weekend, on Shabbat no less, at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.  And our hearts ache for the loved ones, the children and grandchildren, they leave behind.  I wish I had answers.  Instead, I am deeply shaken by angry currents in our own nation, the heated discourse that cannot be viewed in isolation from violence; the fear of “the other,” whether racial, religious, or tribal, that works to suppress the better angels of our nature.
 
The “Better Angels of our Nature.”  If only there were a simple way to summon them.  Lincoln used the phrase in his first inaugural address in which he sought – unsuccessfully -  to avoid terrible conflict.  “We are not enemies, but friends,” he said.  “We must not be enemies.”
 
And yet, here we are….
 
Among the beauty of Judaism as I understand it - is that it does not promise simple answers and instead offers support for endurance in the quest for understanding.  
 
So, here we are…here I am.  In Hebrew, Hineni.  Not “I, alone,” but “I, before God.”  Hineni is the Chazan’s prayer of preparation and humility on Rosh Hashana.  And Hineni is the response Abraham gives in the Akidah, when God calls on him to sacrifice his son Isaac.
 
There is a story about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Akidah.  A child, hearing the story for the first time, breaks into tears.  The teacher asks: “Didn’t the angel come, and wasn’t Isaac saved?”  “Yes,” said the child, “but what if the angel had been late?”  
 
The teacher responds: “The angel is never late.”
 
We humans, however, can be late.  Post-Holocaust Judaism teaches that we must, however, treat that humanity as a fountain of urgency rather than defeat.  As many widespread adaptations of the poem “First They Came,” remind us -  none of us can afford to stand alone.
 
That brings me back to Elie Weisel, whose family stood in the White House, teaching alongside our President, not two years ago.  Elie Weisel once said:
 
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
 
May God grant us peace.