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Synagogue Shooting, Tree of Life - Pittsburgh, October 2018

We continue to join many others in condemning outright the horrific massacre of our fellow Jews in Pittsburgh just last year 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. In fact, incidents such as this have recurred this past year both in the United States and in Europe. So we continue to stand with the Jewish communities in Pittsburgh, San Diego, Germany and elsewhere where these atrocious actions have occurred. And we especially stand 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 and elsewhere. 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. And these incidents have increased again this past year.  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 that fateful 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 its 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 our synagogues were gunned down because we have been 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,

President, Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations