Finding our strength in the aftermath of tragedy

Good morning, my friends.
We move toward another Shabbat still reeling from the massacre in a synagogue in Pittsburgh last Shabbat. I share below two reflections, one by me on “Antisemitism and Being an American” and another by Rabbi Adam Greenwald, which he posted on his Facebook page earlier this week.

Tonight at 6pm our USY teens will lead our services, including the giving of the Dvar which will link the Torah readings description of hesed, kindness, and the events of the week. Tomorrow starting at 9:30am, Rabbi Greenwald will participate in a musical Hal’lu Service led by Amy Robinson Katz at our Coastal location (the University Park Clubhouse) and at CBI-Tustin, I will speak further about finding our strength in the aftermath of tragedy.

As we look ahead, I encourage you to come to Shabbat services as an act of Jewish solidarity and to vote as an American duty. And finally, consider a contribution to HIAS (an organization with whom we at CBI actively partner):

Blessings of Shabbat Shalom. Your rabbi, Elie

Antisemitism: Why and What to Do as American Jews?

by Rabbi Elie Spitz

Elie Wiesel pointed to the Bible’s opening account in Exodus as the first and enduring expression of antisemitism. A new Pharaoh came to power and announced: “Behold, a people- the children of Israel- are numerous and mighty among us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they continue to increase and if a war approaches, they will join with our enemies and fight against us, driving [us] from the land” (Exodus 1:8-10).

We Jews are indeed unusual. Unlike other faith traditions, we are both an extended family and a faith. We are united by a shared story informed by sacred texts that shape a culture of curiosity, debate, study, and taking the needs of the weak into account. Here in America, we have never had greater freedom and opportunity and we have have made extraordinary contributions to American culture and financial institutions. And yet, there are some who reframe the words of the Pharaoh: “These Jews are too powerful and seek to undermine our way of life. They are a cabal who would support our enemies.”

Recently, I listened to a CSP lecture by Holocaust scholar Thorsten Wagner, who asked, “Do you think that the Nazis considered themselves immoral for what they did to the Jews?” To answer the question, he played a recording of Heinrich Himmler, the head of Nazi security, addressing leaders of the SS in 1943 in which he explained that eradicating the Jews was a noble act of self-defense. He explained that the Jews were greedy and devious and had undermined the Germans during WWI, leading to the defeat. We have no choice, he emphasized, but to destroy them lest they succeed in destroying us. The foundation of that claim was built on lies and fear.

I am a child of Holocaust refugees and I recoiled from making analogies from our past to America. And yet, when white-supremacists marched with burning torches in Charlottesville last year they chanted, “The Jews will not replace us.” When political ads ran nationally in recent times speaking of the threat of “internationalists” and showing Jews who were key players in American economic and political life, I shuddered. The assailant who massacred Jews in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue on a recent Shabbat morning, explained in a social media post, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

Why does antisemitism persist? Because we are a distinctive-religious people with success out of proportion to our numbers and our very survival is a mystery that stokes irrational fears.

What can we do to prevent it? Know that words shape beliefs that lead to action and justification for even the most horrific acts. We must actively nip lies as they arise, challenge fear-mongering, and speak courageously about values that endure and give our lives purpose. As HIAS leaders have said, “We started as an organization to help immigrant Jews and became an organization that helps immigrants because we are Jews.”

America is different. In Pittsburgh, police officers risked their lives to protect Jews. Flags hung at half-mast throughout the country. Our neighbors of diverse religious backgrounds cried with us and expressed their heartfelt condolences and support. And yet… I am on guard. But as our Israeli co-religionists have taught us, we cannot let terrorists dictate our lives, and in the case of America, alter our commitment to assuring this great nation’s laws of fairness and respect for the other.

Reflections on Jewish Belonging

by Rabbi Adam Greenwald

With only a few days since since the Tree of Life shooting, we are all still reeling. However, a thought has persisted that has been bringing me great comfort:

How incredible is our community, that when eleven of our members are killed, the whole Jewish world completely stops? Stops like the world has stopped turning. And mourns, not just with “thoughts and prayers,” but really really mourns. For people we never met, but recognize in our guts and bones are family. And, not just the Jewish world, but our interfaith sisters and brothers as well, who show up in the thousands to vigils, who leave flowers at synagogue gates, who cry and rage and sit in silence with us. Remarkable.

And, in particular, I can’t help but dwell on the fact that these eleven were mostly from groups that are so often treated as invisible. The very old. The intellectually disabled. The early shul goers who sit in the back, who form the beloved-but-cantankerous backdrop of every shul in America, who object whenever the rabbi changes the tunes and who don’t have their names on the wall. These people, so often at the margins, are the ones who bring us all together.

A terrorist entered a synagogue on a Shabbat morning intending to strike a blow at the Jewish People. What he succeeded in doing is reminding us of how much we love each other. No exceptions. I’m still sad, but more than that I am so proud to be part of a people who responds this way when tragedy strikes. Mir veln zey iberlebn.We will outlive them.