Sermon on the Tree of Life synagogue Massacre
Parshat Chayei Sarah, 2018
Rabbi Robert Tobin
West Orange NJ
Daniel Stein, 71,
Joyce Fienberg, 75,
Richard Gottfried, 65,
Rose Mallinger, 97,
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66,
brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59 and David Rosenthal, 54,
husband and wife Bernice Simon, 84 and Sylvan Simon, 86,
Melvin Wax, 88 and
Irving Younger, 69.
They are who we are. A conservative synagogue in an aging community, where shabbat morning is the heartbeat of the community. A peaceful synagogue of people fully integrated with the general American community, with a love of their neighborhood, their local sports teams, their town and their families. A tight knit circle of people, who devotedly come to pray, hear the Torah, learn from the rabbi, find God and be with each other in life’s happiest and most sad moments. A minyan that knew the lessons of history, the importance of Israel, and the need to welcome the stranger as both a core conclusion of our own history and a basic value of America.
It is not the first time a rabbi has stood in front of a congregation to name the dead, murdered by those who hate Jews more than they hate or love anything else in life. There are people who hate us, and want to kill us. How do we live with that and what do we do?
Our parshah begins this morning with Avraham burying his beloved dead. It ends with the continuation of the generations that live on. How do we live on, and always remember our dead?
First, we must support the community in Pittsburgh to heal, recover and rebuild. You have the websites I have sent you. Every one of us must give to that cause.
But then, we must know what this is. This is not “unthinkable” or “incomprehensible.” We have been talking about this for over a year. This is what I have been talking about.
Understand Anti-Semitism. It can take so many forms. It is Hitler, and Nazi racism that will never be happy until every Jew has been taken to the gas. It is White Supremacist, whose vision of a great America would segregate lunch counters, expel foreigners, and kill the Jew. It is Hamas, who would throw out or kill every Jew in the Land of Israel to establish an intolerant form of shariah-based state in its wake. It is the followers of Farakand who speak Jew conspiracy against the Black Man in America. If they are rich, that hate us for being communists. If they are poor, they hate us for being bankers. If they are ignorant, we are the educated elite. If they are racists, we are the mongrel horde.
This one was a specific breed of Anti-Semite that I talked about a year ago on the High Holidays. This one is related to the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, with their chants of Blood and Soil and Jews will not replace us. This one believes that only the white blood is the legitimate heir of American history. It is called Nativism. This one believes that a great global Jewish cabal is conspiring to invade Europe and America with Africans, Middle Easterners and Asians in order to not only weaken and take over white nations, but to cause intermarriage, interbreeding and destruction of the white genetic human. This is called White Genocide. This one holds tight to the phrase Nationalist, to accuse Globalists of being the Jewish international conspiracy spoken of in Mein Kampf, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Hamas Covenant. He is a white Nationalist. This combination, White Genocide, Nativism and White Nationalism is a deadly trio, because the Jew is the cause of every evil in the world and in this country. He may hate the black, but he fears the Jew. “Jews will not replace us,” indeed. Every form of hate out there includes the Jew as a target. We are the canary in the mine.
These beliefs are not new, but they have transformed themselves into an American movement, alive on the internet, with a literature of books, blogs and music found across the country.
Now, at the risk of entering a political fight and distraction that will stop any of us from getting anything done for another year, we need to be very clear. There is a large part of the messaging from the Trump campaign and white house that resonates with white supremacists. This is not to say that Trump or the white house believes in white supremacism or is anti-Semitic. But we need to listen to the anti-Semite when they talk. They will tell you that they resonate with certain words and ideas. When Trump says, Make America Great Again, the Pittsburgh attacker buys into the idea but has his own analysis of the program. He posts, “there will be no #MAGA” as long as the “infestation” [i.e. Jews and Immigrants] continues. To MAGA, he believes that White Genocide must be stopped, and America needs to be given back to the Nativists, and taken away from the Globalists. It is all code language for Nazi propaganda. When Trump says, “we need more immigrants from Norway,” it resonates with the anti-black, anti-brown, anti-Semitic agenda. When he says he is a Nationalist, not a globalist, it resonates with the anti-Semitic Jewish conspiracy theories of the far right. The pipe bomber attacks the Globalists. The Pittsburgh shooter kills the Jews. How much Trump is aware of the resonance, and if it is or is not intentional is for you to discuss and for you to decide. But you have to listen to the haters and believe what they say. They are resonating with what they are hearing, and they are posting and proclaiming it publicly.
Second, this was an act of terrorism. Terrorism is the use or threat of violence, outside of legal parameters, to effect political change, usually against symbolic or innocent civilian targets.
There is a difference between a terrorist and a criminal. A criminal will lie, and hide. A Terrorist will tell you the truth, as long as they are not trying to hide their fellows from the authorities. Once a lone wolf commits an attack, he will sing like a canary. And this is terrorism. It is not being called that enough, as if somehow Anti-Semitism or Racism can not be terrorism. This is Domestic Terrorism.
Third, violence – and high powered gun violence – against minorities has become a regular tool of this form of hatred. This form of white supremacist in America can be anti-Black, anti-Gay, anti-Jew, anti-Muslim and more. The attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando, an AME church in Charleston or most recently at a supermarket in Kentucky after trying to get into a black church and failing… they are a pattern. But they are not Parkland, or Sandy Hook or Columbine or Las Vegas. They are different. The firepower brought to bear is a common topic. But the hate that we are facing will not be stopped by a gun law. That is not to say we shouldn’t have gun laws, just that it won’t stop this hate from killing. This hatred is becoming more and more not just words, but violence.
Our answer to this hate, to this terror, to this murder is clear.
First, we will strengthen our Jewish lives, and live as Jews in joyful and defiant ways. We will not ignore our synagogue. We will not drift away. They died because they needed a shul in their lives. We will not give hate the victory of our own apathy.
Second, we will strengthen the fabric of our diverse society in every way. This week I received hugs, tears and hands from the whole spectrum of people in this neighborhood. They are all with us. Welcome that, make that even more real. The spectrum of clergy at town hall, the political support of our elected officials, the neighbors who affirm your Judaism at this time. They are our best weapons against this hate.
Third, we will strengthen our synagogue physically as well as spiritually. We are already ahead of most with blast proof glass, cameras, panic buttons. Now we have an armed Essex County Sherriff on Saturday mornings. We will have community education and training here on Shabbat morning, December 1. We will not be victims. We will not be sitting ducks.
If I had 1.2 million dollars to give away at this time, I hope that I would have done what the Weinberg foundation in Baltimore just did. In brilliant and defiant fashion, they are spoken powerfully to each and every aspect of this act of hate, murder and terror.
[Read Weinberg Press Release]
In this week’s parshah, it begins with death. But by the end, Avraham even in old age has found love again in Keturah, with generations of children and grandchildren to know. This is our story. We will go on.
We will do this because it is who we are. We have seen you, purveyor of hate. We know that the swastika on the sidewalk, if left unopposed, ends up in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. We will name you, oppose you, stop you. We will do it with our spirit, with our souls, with our hearts, with our money, with our bodies. We will do it with our friendships, with our democracy with the force of law. We will do it on college campus and in Israel We will live as Jews and you will not stop us, slow us or divide us. Are we your enemy? You have chosen that on false pretense, but so be it. We will live.