The immensely tragic events of this past weekend at Eitz Hayim Synagogue in Pittsburgh have pierced the hearts of our wider Jewish community and the American public at large. Once again, we have witnessed the vicious and unspeakable desecration of a holy space—a space for worship, for study, and for community. Only this time, the heartbreak we feel strikes deeper with the knowledge that this attack was not only on the synagogue in Squirrel Hill, but also more broadly on the Jewish people as a whole.
Unfortunately, the scourge of anti-Semitism is nothing new to our people’s history, and even more unfortunately, it is nothing new to our current world. Since 2016, the Anti-Defamation League has reported a 57% increase in acts of anti-Semitism. As we all are aware, the specific community of Southern Louisiana has witnessed this resurgence firsthand with the recent vandalism at the Northshore Jewish Congregation in Mandeville. While America has never been devoid of anti-Semitic hatred, it is clear that those who ascribe to this hatred have become more empowered in recent years to take action.
Even more tragic is the fact that this past Shabbat, Jews across the world read from Parashat Vayeira, a Torah portion which begins with the hospitality Abraham shows to three strangers who arrive at his tent. The Jewish value of welcoming the stranger permeates not only the book of Genesis, but appears throughout our sacred text, and continues to inform our people’s efforts to provide resources to those seeking refuge. It is this value—this embracing of those who are different from us that seems to have been a major motivation for the murderer in Squirrel Hill this past weekend.
To be sure, these are trying times—both for our country and for our fellow Jews. It is ok to be sad. It is ok to be afraid. It is ok to feel. However, what we cannot do is shy away from our commitment to community and solidarity. Right now, we mourn for those lost and hold tight to those whom we love. I pray that in the midst of this pain, we remain steadfast in our values, and translate those values to action.
The first step toward this action will be a special Friday evening service this Friday November 2 at 7 pm. Rather than a usual Shabbat service, this special ceremony will be open to all in our community who wish to join us and support us in this time. By joining together with our neighbors, we will show that hatred and bigotry has no place in our community, and that in spite of recent events, we will remain committed to our values of welcoming the stranger and celebrating life. More details are to follow.
The next step for action is next Tuesday, November 6. If we wish to see change in our society, we must fulfill our civic duty and vote in the upcoming elections. Please use this opportunity, and encourage others along the way, to make your voice heard. Vote your conscience as Jews, as American citizens, as Temple Shalom congregants, and as human beings.
“לא ישא גוי אל גוי חרב, לא ילמדו עוד מלחמה”
“Nation shall not take up sword against nation, they shall study war no more”
– Isaiah 2:4
Ross Z. Levy, Student Rabbi