The cold-blooded murder of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue last weekend has been described as the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in the history of the United States. The members of the congregation mourn the massacre of their fellow members. The city mourns the tragic consequences of blind hatred. A nation mourns the ever-increasing law-lessness being expressed by anti-semitic acts. A people thousands of miles away mourn yet another deadly assault upon the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. If history teaches us anything, it should be that if we ignore what happened, it is reasonable to expect that it will happen again.
It was only a week ago when a gunman entered the Etz Haim (“Tree of Life”) Synagogue with an automatic rifle and several pistols and yelled “All Jews must die”, before opening fire and killing 11 congregants, the last of whom, aged 97, was buried yesterday (Friday). The gunman not only killed 11 people, he injured others in the congregation, along with four policemen. With multitudes on both sides of the ocean and around the world, still reeling from the outworking of unbridled hate, and while relatives of the victims sit “Shiva” (7 days of mourning), another deranged individual acted out his own brand of Jew-hatred, by setting fire to seven Hasidic (ultra-orthodox) institutions in the South Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. The places that were set on fire were synagogues and places of learning (“yeshivot”). On Thursday, vandals spray-painted “Kill All Jews” on the wall of one reform synagogue,, apparently picking up on, and trying to emulate, the statement of the Pittsburgh killer. In addition to the fires set yesterday, the past week has evidenced swastikas graffitied in Brooklyn Heights, as well as the Upper West Side of Manhattan, among other things, including verbal threats against a Jewish man in Brooklyn.
The Pittsburgh massacre has evoked emotions from most people with half a brain. Those who don’t have half a brain deface and set fire to synagogues! And they flood cyberspace with online hate.
Some pictures truly speak louder than words. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published on its front page yesterday (Friday) the beginning of the Mourner’s Kaddish – the prayer, which Jews recite upon the passing of a relative. It has no reference
to death in it, but is totally a prayer of praise to God. The opening words are: Yitgadal v-yitkadash shemay rabah – it is a prayer in Aramaic and means [the opening words]: “Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name….” That this appeared on the front page of the newspaper speaks volumes about the respect and identification that the Pittsburgh community has with the gravity of this despicable crime.
Many others expressed sympathy with the Jewish community following the murders that took place last week. One of them was
the American football team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, who tweeted on October 27th: “We send our thoughts and prayers to those affected by this morning’s tragedy in Pittsburgh. We will continue to pray for everyone involved.” The logo of the Pittsburgh Steelers was turned into a symbol of solidarity with the Jewish community, when it added a Star of David to it. According to one tabloid, one of the doctors in Pittsburgh, who was involved in treating the wounded following the shooting, shared the edited logo next to the words, “Stronger Than Hate.”
The same is true for Pittsburgh’s Penguin Pete.
Surprisingly, two Muslim groups began a fundraising campaign that raised over $40,000 for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. The crowdfunding campaign on “LaunchGood”, stated: “The Muslim-American community extends its hands to help the shooting victims, whether it is the injured victims or the Jewish families who have lost loved ones. We wish to respond to evil with good, as our faith instructs us, and send a powerful message of compassion through action.”
Clearly, there were independent voices within the Muslim world who spoke out against the recent terror attack in Pittsburgh and likewise would have been equally critical, even if the terror attack had occurred inside of Israel. One Saudi Arabian journalist stated: “I want to express my deepest sympathy and condolences not only to the Jewish communities, but to all around the world. What happened in Pittsburgh is sad and a coward act of terrorism and beyond anything that I can imagine. Very, very sad to see innocent lives lost in a place of worship.”
A co-founder of Defend International, Dr. Widad Akreya, who is of Kurdish ancestry, stated: “It is heartbreaking to hear about the horrific Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. My thoughts are with the victims, their families and their friends. I am grieving with you and hoping for a speedy recovery of the wounded. May our love surround and comfort all of you.” These are, indeed, noteworthy comments and are undoubtedly genuine.
However, while it is noteworthy that representatives of Arab countries, including members of the news media, condemned the murderous attack, some took advantage of it to condemn Israel and Jews. I won’t take the space here to repeat those condemnations, which are, or should be, familiar to all.
The above events happened in the United States – a staunch defender of freedoms – of speech, of expression, of congregation … and of religion! It is not the Middle East, where differences of religion can affect local standing, civil rights and even the right to live. It is not Nazi-era Germany, where Kristallnacht marked government-sanctioned attacks upon Jewish people, institutions and businesses on November 9-10, 1938. These things can’t happen in the U.S. … or can they?
The events of Pittsburgh, and now Brooklyn among other places, are expressions of a growing disease of anti-Semitism. We can try to talk about it, try to rationalize it and to politicize it (as many have attempted to do this past week), but none of them offer a cure for it. This is not a time to play politics. It is a time to mourn with those who mourn. It is a time for soul-searching and to be honest with ourselves. How we feel about others reflects how we think about them, speak about them and act towards them. Blind hatred is a disease of a sick mind. It doesn’t go away, but only grows worse until it consumes the one who hates. And one of the worst things about hatred is that it is contagious!
God chose the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be a blessing to the world, among other things. In a letter dated August 18, 1790, following his visit to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, President George Washington wrote, in part:
“May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants – while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.”
What starts with one will end with many. It may be needless to point out what history has demonstrated over and over again, namely: that hatred that begins against the Jews doesn’t end with the Jews. What happened in Pittsburgh, and again in Brooklyn, is becoming the new normal. Think for a moment: the gunman could have entered a different religious gathering and, instead of yelling, “All Jews must die!”, he could have yelled: “All blacks must die!” or, “All Muslims must die!” or, “All Christians must die!” We are all exposed to the spreading disease of hate.
Words can kill. America is killing itself with everyone accusing everyone else of everything that they don’t like. And it is spiralling out of control. Hatred, like politics, cannot offer a cure for itself. It has to come from outside. If, indeed, the United States still believes in its motto: “In God We Trust”, now is the time to ask for His help.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)
Then you will call and the LORD will answer; You will cry and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness and if you … satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday.” (Isaiah 58:9-10)
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.