Where do we want society to move towards?
Mayor of Pittsburgh Bill Peduto provided this answer following the mass murder of 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue this past Saturday morning: “It is not about finding ways to divide us, it is about finding ways that unite us through our commonalities as humans. Let this horrific episode be another mark in the march of humanity that we are all one.”
I am taking liberty to change the famous words (while keeping the spirit) of the Lutheran Minister Martin Niemöller’s oft quoted First They Came.
First they came for people with mental illness. I didn’t speak out because I was not mentally ill.
Then they came for people with disabilities. I didn’t speak out because I was not disabled.
Then they came for LGBTQI. I didn’t speak out because I was not LGBTQI.
Then they came for people with dark skin. I didn’t speak out because I was not dark skinned.
Then they came for people who are Jewish. I am Jewish. I didn’t think they were coming for me.
It is a week when racism reared its ugly specter, when pipe bombs are sent to numerous politicians and others, when 2 patrons are murdered in a supermarket because they are black and not white and when 11 worshipers are murdered in their synagogue because they are Jews.
Mayor Peduto’s words are so prescient when we consider that among the dead this week are people with “darker” skin color and people with developmental and physical disabilities. On this fateful Saturday morning the Pittsburgh congregation in Squirrel Hill was to celebrate a bris—a Jewish ritual circumcision of two boys. It emerged that the parents of these two adopted boys, were two men. The Nazis singled out people who they considered less than including gays and lesbians.
Returning to Mayor Peduto’s words: Can our society embrace that we are “all one humanity?” What does embracing our common humanity mean to you?
For me it does not mean that we will agree on all issues. We may even have opposing points of view. For me it means first and foremost that I will not stand idly by when there are those among us who choose racism over decency and single out a person or group of people for mistreatment or violence. For me it means that I am committed to enlarging my circle of concern and caring for those that may not look like, believe like or behave like me.
On Saturday, the day of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, my wife and I welcomed a Muslim family into our home, for the first time, and we spoke for a couple of hours. Our two little girls and their two little girls are friends at school. This was a conscious effort to widen our experience of who we speak with, who we care about.
On Monday morning, for the first time, I asked the man who stands on the corner with a sign “Need Work” what his name is. I gave him money, as I often do, but this time we spoke, even if just to exchange names. He waved to me as I drove off. He was no longer the anonymous man on the corner and I was no longer a man in a car. We know each others’ names.
Our community and other communities benefit from sharing not only their grief, their outrage, and their fear this week. We benefit from sharing our triumphs in courageously expanding our sense of a common humanity and living into Mayor Peduto’s call to action: “Let this horrific episode (these horrific episodes) be another mark in the march of humanity that we are all one.”