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Synagogue Shooting, Tree of Life - Pittsburgh, October 2018

We join many others in condemning outright the horrific massacre of our fellow Jews in Pittsburgh this
Saturday at Tree of Life Synagogue. It was a vile, evil, despicable act aimed at our people, who have
been repeatedly targeted for violence and slaughter over far too many centuries. We stand with the
Jewish (and larger) community in Pittsburgh, and especially with the families of those who were so
viciously attacked. We stand with them in their grief and in their outrage.


As the son of Holocaust survivors, I was born just after the war in the Holocaust-savaged country of
Hungary. As part of a family who had far too frequently heard the cry “All these Jews need to die,” it is
particularly appalling—and galling—to hear that same cry not only from the murderer in Pittsburgh but
from too many others in this country. As the Anti-Defamation League reminded us in their alarming
report for 2017, anti-Semitic incidents increased more last year than in any previous year for which they
had kept records. Moreover, for the first time, anti-Semitic incidents were reported in every one of the
United States. This must end, and any incitement that produces such actions must end as well.


As a refugee myself, I came to this country with my family to seek a safe haven from intolerance and
prejudice aimed at us purely because we were a minority. To see prejudice and intolerance not only on
the rise, but in far too many instances either emboldened or enabled—if not outright encouraged—is
deeply troubling. It is antithetical not only to the values which our adopted country so long proclaimed
and upheld, it is also violates biblical norms long revered by our own Jewish tradition. As the Statue of
Liberty (Emma Lazarus) profoundly reminds us:  


Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

 

These values and norms go back through our entire Jewish heritage all the way to Mt. Sinai (Ex. 22:21).
We reach out to the stranger and those oppressed; we don’t push them away.


It’s striking that the par’sha (portion from the Torah) read in the synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday--
as it was read that day in synagogues around the world--was the portion where Abraham welcomed the
visitors to his tent with open arms. It is largely from this passage that our ancient Sages derived the
important Jewish concept of gemilut hasidim (acts of compassionate kindness) and particularly the
principle at it s very core: hospitality. Hospitality--welcoming strangers with open arms--was said by our
traditions to be Abraham’s primary and most honorable characteristic. And yet, those in the synagogue
were gunned down precisely because the gunman specifically accused them of being too welcoming of
strangers or refugees.


It’s high time in this country that we returned to our moorings. And we all need to stand together with
those who want to stand up for these most basic of human (and divine) principles.


Rabbi Dr. John Fischer,

Academic Vice President