Many of us are still reeling from the horror of last weekend, when a man opened fire at a Pittsburgh synagogue, yelling “All Jews must die!” and killing 11 people. That the victims had entered a sacred space and gathered for Sabbath prayers makes it especially heinous. “They were vulnerable with their guards down, like us,” a teenager said to me on Sunday. “Are we safe?” a grandmother I hadn’t met before asked on Monday evening, at an interfaith response to Bernstein’s Mass. I paused before I answered, trying to hear clearly what lay beneath her words. “We’re always better off together than we are alone,” I offered, and her face softened. “That’s why I came,” she said.
The news evokes Charleston prayer meetings, Parkland classrooms, Las Vegas concerts and Sandy Hook, not to mention the sometimes daily violence that poisons our city. An hour after I ran out of Halloween candy and left my neighbor’s stoop last night, a man was shot and killed 20 blocks north. With 260 homicides since January, this weekend’s Baltimore Ceasefire comes not a moment too soon. (https://baltimoreceasefire.com)
My wife’s old friend Dorsey, now the Bishop of Pittsburgh, wrote this: “The newscasts, sickeningly, are referring again and again to this horror as a “tragedy.” It is no such thing. A tragedy is inevitable. This was not. It was murder, murder of a particularly vile and poisonous kind. Human beings have moral agency. Someone chose to hate, and chose to kill. And now we are faced with a choice as well— to do nothing, or to reject this hatred in the strongest possible words and actions, and to refute in every way, in every forum, the philosophical foundations of anti-Semitism wherever they have gained a foothold in our churches and our society.”
The staff at Redeemer is assembling words of help and hope that we’ve heard since Saturday, and we will post them on a bulletin board near the front doors at church. Here’s some of what we’ve gathered:
“In a nation founded on religious freedom, we are shaken to our core each time we see an act of evil carried out against a group of people because of who they are or what they believe.” (Faus, Evins, Meck, and Ballenger, St. Paul’s School)
“It is too easy for us to become immune to the horrific events of mass shootings and hate crimes that flood our airwaves. But let us not fall prey to that temptation. Let us hold the depth of this news in our hearts.” (Bishops United Against Gun Violence)
“As parents and educators, we have to find and hang on to the potential for hope, even in the face of pain and despair. We have to believe that we are raising a generation that will say “enough” to the level of acrimony and violence that have taken hold of so much” of our lives. (Chris Hughes, Garrison Forrest School)
“We are stronger when we connect and learn across our differences, and when we come to recognize that we have an ethical responsibility for ensuring that each and every member of our community feels safe, feels valued, feels known.” (Dan Paradis, Park School)
“I was talking to my nine-year-old daughter while we walked to school about having attended the interfaith vigil… for the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue… By the time we got there, the hall and the aisles were full, so we listened on the speakers set up outside. As my daughter remembered, it was in fact cold and wet. It had not occurred to us that we would be standing in the rain… Others were wiser than we, and helped shield us (from the weather). My new favorite image for the Kingdom of God is having one dry and one wet shoulder, which is what happens when more than one person tries to share an umbrella… I come back to that feeling of being cold and wet. And just being together with Muslims and Jews and Christians and atheists and everybody… There was nothing heroic or virtuous about it. It was just where we needed to be.” (Sarah Irwin, Pittsburgh)
We are called to heal the world, to repair with God’s help the brokenness we encounter around us and inside us, to stand with those who struggle, and to comfort those who weep. It can feel overwhelming—if you love deeply, you grieve deeply–but our hearts won’t let us ignore it. We are better off together than we are alone. I have been asked to give the closing prayer at a Shabbat service of solidarity this Friday at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, to which Redeemer is heartily invited. (https://www.baltimorehebrew.org/praying/services/) Join me if you can.