On Saturday, October 27, 2018, an anti-Semitic man walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and shot and killed 11 people. This massacre is the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.
Last night, October 29th, 2018, I attended a memorial service at the synagogue of Congregation B’Nai Israel in Sacramento, California. The synagogue was packed with 1,300+ Jewish and non-Jewish people – people of different ethnicities, clergy from all faiths, politicians, heads of law enforcement agencies, and members of the media. People stood several rows deep in the back and around the synagogue.
We were there to express our condolences to the congregations of the Tree of Life Synagogue, to the people of Pittsburgh, and to the Jewish community around the world. We were there to mourn the violent and senseless taking of life. We were there for help in processing a new reality of unleashed and lethal hatred.
In her opening remarks, Rabbi Mona Alfi spoke about the biblical story of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. When God asked Cain where Abel was, Cain replied, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” This, Rabbi Alfi said, is a question we have to answer.
For everyone at the memorial service, our presence was our answer to this question – a resounding “Yes, I am my brother’s keeper.” By coming together we made a statement to ourselves, to each other, to everyone who has been frightened, and to everyone who seeks to intimidate and terrorize that we stand together against hatred and violence. Being our brother’s keeper means calling out and opposing lies, deception, divisive propaganda, unlawful government actions, and rhetoric that fans the fires of anger and aggression.
Our humanity unites us. We have more in common than we have extrinsic differences. When some of us are demeaned, devalued, and dehumanized, it divides us. And when we are divided, it becomes easier for some of us to be preyed upon. The decision to remain united with our fellow human beings who are threatened or attacked could be seen as a selfish one – there is safety in numbers. But it is a choice that speaks of the beliefs and values we hold dear and choose to live by.
These are the names of my brothers and sisters who were murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue. May their memories be for a blessing.
Joyce Fienberg, 75
Richard Gottfried, 65
Rose Malinger, 97
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Cecil Rosenthal, 59
David Rosenthal, 54
Bernice Simon, 84
Sylvan Simon, 86
Daniel Stein, 71
Melvin Wax, 88
Irving Younger, 69
©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.