By Rabbi Sruly and Ruchi Koval
Pittsburgh wasn’t supposed to happen. Here in the USA, on safe soil, we’re not supposed to be afraid to go to synagogue on a Shabbat morning in suburbia. This is not Berlin or Paris. It’s not the Middle East and it’s not East Cleveland. Squirrel Hill is safe. It’s Beachwood and Shaker Heights and Solon. Right?
The Jew has never been totally accurate about his own safety. The Jew has always made the mistake of trusting complacently in his host culture. The Jew has consistently forgotten his own history, or at least tried. But the Jew must remember the past in order to be smart about the future.
Make no mistake: anti-semitism is alive and well in our universe, and I say this not to fear-monger or panic but because knowing your enemy is ammunition. When the Jew responds to anti-semitism with shock, it is weak. We need to always be ready for it, because anti-semitism isn’t going anywhere soon.
But fear cannot be a part of the equation. Fear comes from ignorance and we must not be ignorant. Learn your nation’s history and learn what your people stand for. Understand that Judaism is about bringing holiness into the world and living peacefully and lovingly. Judaism’s most famous words are “chai” and “shalom” – life and peace.
Be proud of who we are! Be proud to be identified with innocent victims and never with the evildoer. Pride should be the thing that fuels our smarts about anti-semitism, not shock or fear. How often the Torah tells us not to fear! Moses ends his very life, and the story of the Torah, telling Joshua: “Be strong and fortify yourself, for you will bring the Jewish people to the Land that I’ve promised them – and I will be with you.”
Even Joshua felt scared going into a new land. God promises that He will always be with him. But more chillingly, God promises that we, the Jewish people will always be here. “God will go before you and will be with you. He shall not desert you and not leave you: don’t fear and don’t be scared” (Deut. 31:8).
Guys, we do not need to worry about the viability of the Jewish people. God has that covered. We do, though, have to take His timeless advice: don’t be weak! Don’t be afraid! Stay with God and He will stay with you.
In the meantime the world needs us. Pittsburgh needs us to not panic. Pittsburgh needs our prayers and our good deeds and solidarity. Non-Jews need for us to set a good example and be role models, to demonstrate dignity. To respond to hate with love and to never be haughty or bigoted.
We need to remember that all Jews are one family. Together we reflect the godly unity that we all carry within. Just as our enemy said that his intention was to target all of us, we must remember that it is unity that strengthens our community. In times of trouble and in times of joy.
Yesterday, while waiting on line at the dry cleaners, a stranger approached me saying, “I feel so bad for what happened in Pittsburgh. I want you to know that we said a prayer for your people in church this past Sunday.”
We must be proud and not scared. To be smart and educated about our history and our people. To stay strong with God and with godliness. To spread love and never hate. This is what we need. And if we can, the deaths of the holy souls of Pittsburgh will not have been in vain.
May their memories be blessed.