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What will we do?  words from the shabbat after the tree of life murders

11/03/2018 12:44:57 PM


The following is a transcript of the words delivered to our congregation on November 2, 2018:

This past week, family and friends gathered to bury their loved ones murdered in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.  This week’s Torah portion begins with a burial too.  In the Torah’s story, Abraham lovingly buries his wife Sarah in the cave of Machpelah in Hebron.  But this is only the beginning of the Torah portion.

The story continues:  After his period of mourning has ended, Abraham’s thoughts immediately turn to the future, to the next generation.  He charges his servant to travel to the land of his birth and bring back a wife for Isaac. 

The servant travels to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor.  He stops by a well and prays for a sign that he will choose the right woman.  The sign he asks for is this: “Let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink’ and who shall say ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’ – let her be the one appointed for Isaac.”

Rebecca appears at the well, and when Abraham’s servant, a stranger to her, asks for water from her jar – she quickly gives water to him, and offers to draw water for his ten camels as well.   

In the Torah’s story, Rebecca’s essential kindness and her hospitality to strangers are what identify her as the future wife of Isaac, the mother of the next generation.  These values of loving kindness and of caring for the stranger are the essence of who we are as a Jewish community. 

In Pittsburgh, the Jewish community was targeted because of our support for immigrants and refugees.*    Tonight, we say: We will not let acts of hatred deter us from our mission.  We will live with justice and goodness, embracing the values that made us a target. For if we abandon these values, then we have lost the essence of who we are. We cannot let that happen.

And tonight, we remember that we are not alone.  These past days have seen an outpouring of support from our Muslim friends, our Christian friends, our friends of many faiths, and our friends of no faiths.  We have heard from so many who are committed to realizing the American ideal articulated by George Washington in his letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, RI: “Our government gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution, no assistance.”  
To those friends of all faiths and backgrounds who are here tonight, to all who have made known your care and support so powerfully – Thank you.  You stand with us.  And we stand with you.  We stand for each other because we know the truth articulated by Dr. Martin Luther King, the truth that “we are tied together in a single garment of destiny.”

Finally, after a tragedy it is natural to ask why something like this happened.   To ask “why” is an expression of our sadness and pain.  Even if we were able to fully answer the question why, that answer would not remove the pain we feel.  The “why” question is important, but it is too big and complex and multi-faceted to address as I speak to you tonight.  We will talk about that question in the weeks ahead.  And I want you to know that you maya always reach out to me individually with your “why” question.  That’s why I am here.  

This evening I wish to close not with the question “why” but with the question “what?”  What will we do in the coming days?

Tonight, I feel greater resolve to embrace and live the values of those at the Tree of Life synagogue. That clarity gives me strength.  I know that it can feel overwhelming to think about all the work we must do to repair this broken world.  Yes, there is so much to do. But I ask you tonight to consider one thing you can do, one simple act of righteousness.  Just one thing.    Don’t be overwhelmed thinking about all we have to do.  Think about one thing that you can do.
There are so many good people and organizations working to assist immigrants and refugees, fight racism and hatred and bigotry in all its forms, protect our environment, help Jewish communities flourish, and strengthen our American democracy.  Identify just one organization and give it your support.

You can also make a difference on a personal level.  Like Rebecca at the well, make a point to greet those you don’t know. Act with kindness.  Listen to others.  Choose your words with care.  Build relationships of trust and mutual respect.  In doing so you will see that there are many, many good people in this world.  When you encounter that goodness, you will be strengthened by it.

My friends, my community, my loved ones:  I know that goodness will win in the end.  We will stand with each other.  We will draw strength from the love that connects us.  And we will build this world from love.

We Will Build This World From Love - Olam Chesed Yivaneh

*NBC news reported the following:  “In a post on the social network Gab, the accused shooter, Robert Bowers, 46, linked to a directory of synagogues participating in a HIAS event, National Refugee Shabbat, saying he "appreciated" the list. As part of the elaborate anti-Semitic conspiracy theory to which he subscribed — which prosecutors say motivated his crime — Bowers claimed that HIAS was working to bring people to the United States to do violence.”  According to many news reports, Bowers’ final post on Gab read: “HIAS likes to bring invaders that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” 


Sat, December 7 2019 9 Kislev 5780