Tree of Life Vigil

Posted on October 29, 2018

It is hard to know what to say. On Saturday morning we were gathered in this Sanctuary celebrating a young boy becoming a man. Our hearts were filled with joy and happiness. And then the service ended, and we heard the shocking and horrific news from Pittsburgh. And my heart was broken. Broken for those eleven lives cruelly taken whilst they were praying. Broken for the community of Tree of Life whose sanctuary was desecrated in the most painful way. And broken for all of us that we live in a society and country where this type of atrocity is possible. There is an overwhelming sadness when a House of Worship, a place for prayer, community and peace is attacked by someone committed to hate, destruction and terror. While this attack was on a synagogue, the values and ideals which the gunman was opposing are those that we all share. This was an attack on Jews, with specific elements of anti-Semitic rhetoric and hate, but it was also an attack on all of us, on the lives we lead and the values we hold dear. And while I am sad I am also angry that in 2018 this type of behavior does not feel as shocking as it should. The voices of hate have been allowed to grow louder, the voices of bigotry have been increasing in volume, and the voices of prejudice are on the rise. In 2017 in the aftermath of Charlottesville our responses to the hate that filled those streets were not loud enough. Is it any surprise that these groups have been emboldened and that there are now unfortunately, tragically, people who believe in this hate-filled ideology who are willing to turn words into horrible actions? As Senator John McCain taught us: “White Supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special.” But there is another way. In the responses we have received since Saturday, I am struck by the outpouring of love and support. I am touched by the messages of friendship and care. And I am strengthened by the resolve I hear to never let hate win. Tonight, we come together in memory of the victims, in sadness for the events of this past weekend, but also in solidarity and with a commitment that things can be different. In this Sanctuary, filled with a beautiful diversity of people we are delivering a clear message that we will not be divided, we will not allow hate to define us, and we will not allow these evil voices and people to triumph. The great Rabbi Hillel is attributed with saying: “Bemakom she’ein anashim, hishtadel lihyot ish” – In a place where there are no humans, one must strive to be human. We cannot allow hate to define us, now more than ever, it is our humanity, our goodness, our kindness, our common decency that the world needs. The love, compassion and care in this room needs to shine forth to illuminate our towns, our country and the world. There is a sickness in our country, but the cure is here as well, it is in rooms and sanctuaries such as this one, where across this great nation people have come together in support for one another, in love for one’s fellow human being, and in a statement that we will not be divided. There is a long road ahead of us, but as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. teaches us “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We must be the ones to bend that arc back into the right direction.