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They Came For

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.”

Comments 9

  1. Most of us have tuned out as, we have our piece of the pie. Our class privilege, tunes us out of having to deal with the wretchedness of earth-the disenfranchised-disinherited. So you ask…Do you fight for justice because you will win or loose?
    We will live in an unjust world, if we do nothing when things go arry and things are hopeless, and knowing this,then when will we wake up?.
    We can’t turn our back against the world, for that is one of the ways that structures of power maintain their dominion. Those with power and privilege never go to the oppressed and ask to share power.
    So we need to raise consciousness…We need to see a new vision and turn the world upside down,as there is nothing redemptive about suffering.
    Redemption comes through the act of solidarity with standing against racism, classism,sexism,homophobia, and every other ism…
    We can all become a new creature ,when we face the sins of omission on our selves, and then we can stand in solidarity with those who are working towards the goal of justice…knowing it may never be realized in our life time.
    But to acknowledge that the seeds are being planted and that may bear fruit 8 generations from now.
    This Trump moment in history,is not linear…history has no rime or reason. History is an attempt to put order in that disorder.
    Dr Martin King said that,” The arch of the moral universe of history is bent towards justice”…but people fail to remember that he also said that,”If it is going to bend – It is up to you to bend it. If you do not bend it, other people will bend it towards their direction”. Hopelessness rejects quick fixes. Hopelessness is desperation.
    We have got to recognize the desperation and do some thing radical.
    As for the LGBT targeting…the idea that, they are an abomination before God,all selectavely pulled out from the old testament to advocate hate, disgust and fear…makes the oppressors,heirs of those who previously denigrated women and marginalized race and ethnic groups. We can’t stay silent in the face of oppressive structures…just because LGBT is not my issues, it makes all of us complicit with the structures designed to build “US” against “Them” privilege.
    Dr Martin King said,” In justice any where, is a threat to justice every where.”
    We need strength in the face of adversity,cooperating with others.
    I need to fix myself before fixing the world. We need to commit to transcendent good above all things. The line separating good and evil passes right through the heart. Trump has missed the mark, and as a result of his pulling others down,our nation is the treasure house for the plundering, dividing,polarizing,as we drift towards chaos. Complex problems require sophisticated complex thinking and analysis.
    Trumps unreflective tweets are channeled from a bitter, vengeful,hostile,resentful heart…and things soon fall apart.
    By their fruits you will know them. The fruits of my action will be bestowed on my family…The fruits of our nations actions right now will be bestowed on our national community and worldwide community. Let us not eat the bitter fruit…Let us pursue peace with all men,that no bitterness spring up.

  2. Yasher koach, David. I’ve been thinking about Niemöller’s words for quite awhile. Not sure what to say at this point – still reeling, still processing. Simple message – ShowUpForShabbat. Shabbat Shalom. שבת שלום. Let us all be as one.

  3. David, your blog was thoughtful and important. Thank you for including the different communities that experienced innocent people loosing their lives because of their race, religion, or disability. Your uplifting story of hosting a muslim family for dinner is one of the sacred acts of acceptance. Talking to a homeless man, so he did not feel invisible.
    Going forward I will make an effort to learn and communicate with other religions, races and cultures. Hope is what we share in our Kabbalah community.
    Anita, thank you for your powerful response to David’s blog.

  4. “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

    ― Blaise Pascal, Pensées

  5. Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”
    ― Karl Raimund Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies

  6. The mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue reportedly happened during a ceremony for the children of a gay couple.

    The Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, a local LGBTQ group, revealed that the violent attack occurred during a bris — a Jewish rite of male circumcision — for the couple’s adopted twins. Hence my earlier reference to this being an LGBTQI attacks well as anti jewish shooting. I am glad to see that the movie Schindler’s list is celebrating its 25th anniversary…The movie will be shown in movie theaters again…We all need to see this movie to understand the plight of Jews through history.

  7. Shoutout to the Barrier-Breakers
    We’re lifting up the names of women of color who made history this year:
    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: one of the two youngest women ever elected to Congress
    Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar: the first Muslim-American women ever elected to Congress
    Ayanna Pressley: the first Black woman elected to represent Massachusetts in Congress
    Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia: the first Latinas elected to represent Texas in Congress
    Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland: the first Indigenous women ever elected to Congress
    Young Kim: the first elected Korean-American congresswoman….YIPPIE.

  8. Light Shines Down on Our Tree of Life
    by: galleryeditor on November 8th, 2018 | No Comments »

    Ner Tamid hanging in a synagogue. Image courtesy of FLLL/Wikimedia.
    Days after eleven lives are extinguished, the ner tamid shines brightly. The ever-glowing light shines in every synagogue, never extinguished. It’s a remembrance of G-d’s fire-filled conversations with Abraham and Moses, a promise that the Jews will one day be as plentiful as the stars burning in the sky. The ner tamid continues to shine when there’s a bris, when there’s a marriage, when there’s a massacre.

    Each synagogue is connected through these pinpricks of light, a map to a global community. The constellations light from every continent, shining bright in the darkness. Jews are guided among and between these North Stars, pointing the way toward a better world. As more people are guided to the light of each synagogue, the warmth of our community grows.

    The spark of life within each of us darkens with each tragedy, but also drives us toward one another. At the Sacramento memorial gathering, the crowd pulses with emotion and one feels the vibration in the air. Mournful songs ring out, but there is also hope as people clap wildly for speakers who promise there is a brighter future. Behind me are a thousand people spread out within and between seats set up for a few hundred. The synagogue’s walls reverberate with communal love, and we shine together to reflect the darkness that comes after a massacre.

    As the Hebrew mourning prayers surge through me, my grandfather’s memory rises within. The Holocaust was a dark shadow upon his life, and his family’s existence was a great middle finger to Nazis’ attempt to condemn his life. Tears stream down my face as I silently repeat, “Let it only be these 11. Please don’t let them have died in vain. Please, G-d, don’t let the light of our community dim like it did 80 years ago.”

    Twenty years ago, three synagogues were fire bombed by White Nationalists in my Sacramento hometown. As our community mourned the burnt ashes, we were also grateful there was no loss of life. Sanctuaries were rebuilt more beautiful than they started, now glowing under natural light that better illuminated our caring community. Hate tried to extinguish our Jewish light, but the savagery was met with love. Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg ignited the Unity Center, an interactive exhibit that explores communities’ differences and commonalities. Synagogues aided synagogues, and non-Jews housed our community. Our shared humanity lit a path through the dark times.

    Its almost twenty years later, and over a thousand people stand together against hate. The space overflows with unexpected community, and we make ourselves comfortable without enough chairs or song sheets. Unsolicited, the younger man to my right hands me his program, volunteering to share with his neighbor. To my left sits a woman whose wrinkled hands hold tight to her walker, protecting unsuspecting aisle sitters from an accidental bump. The leaders ask us to rise, and old and young sway to ancient Hebrew melodies. Together, we are reinvigorated, renewing our own source of light by comforting and sharing space with strangers and friends.

    My daughter sits between my legs. Her soft skin is against mine, a safe point in the realm of uncertainty. Her agitated body shuffles sideways and longways and any which way, adulthood not yet having captured her animated blaze.

    Every Shabbat I whisper into her ear the priestly blessing:

    May G-d bless you and keep you
    May G-d cause the divine light to shine upon you and be gracious to you
    May G-d turn toward you, and grant you peace

    This evening we are the priests blessing one another. We are the divine. We bring each other peace and grant it to our neighbors.

    The service ends, and my daughter’s hand searches for mine. As hundreds of people stream past us she whispers, “I’m glad we came here. I feel better when I’m with other people after something bad happens.” For the rest of the night she snuggles next to me, her body uncharacteristically calm.

    Days later the darkness settles around us, bringing forth the light of Shabbat candles. My hands gingerly touch my daughter’s head and I whisper the centuries-old priestly blessing. Love warms my body, and unexpected emotion tears through me. She is the proof that the world can be a heavenly place, full of people connected through love and hardship. It is our communal divine light that brightens the darkness, and I know that our future will one day shine brightly upon us.

    __

    Margee Burch passionately promotes egalitarian and participatory community in her middle school social studies class, whenever she asks her children to clean the house, and during member-led Shabbat gatherings. She is co-founder and president of the Sacramento Jewish community Kol Rinah, where she forces other people to cook Shabbat dinner for her on the regular.

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