It Really Can Happen in America Too
The depths of heartbreak as a result of the massacre at the Tree of Life congregation sickens as well as hits unbelievable heights of sadness we Jews could ever have imagined in America. America the beautiful has become, at least for the moment, anything but, and the lingering effects of this horrendous crime will linger for a long time to come.
But we should also not be surprised. For not very long ago a gunman entered a church in the Carolinas and massacred worshipers engaged in what they thought was the sacred act of praying in a safe haven. And now it’s happened to Jews.
Many writers will respond that this is an atrocious act of antisemitism. And it is. But not only that. For the extremists of this country, hatred has no limits, and includes Jews, African Americans, and others of mixed races, sexes, and cultures in places where intolerance reigns, and love and respect for others are non-sequiturs. While intolerance remains, and hatred continues, acts of such heinous monstrosity will continue and innocent Americans of all ethnic cultures will suffer.
Meanwhile, who can begin to understand what the victims’ families must be going through right now? How will they ever be able to come to terms that at a moment of such joy as a baby was undergoing a bris, people’s lives were just plucked out and taken down because of an incendiary individual whose hatred knew no bounds? How will they ever be able to cope with what must be seen as an unforgettable loss for no reason or purpose whatsoever? Who will be able to heal the broken hearts and the losses they will forever now have to undergo for the foreseeable future?
“The thing to remember about anti-Semitism is this — it is not hatred of Jewish behavior. It is hatred of Jews,” wrote The New York Sun in 2002. And for the Jews, and others who attended a special memorial service held in the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, it was the saddest moment of pain and wrenching loss. Many of those present had, and may still have, family members, friends, and acquaintances living in Pittsburgh, any of whom could have been present at the scene of the massacre. And in a spirit of absolute unity Jews of all backgrounds and ethnicities and cultures came together in their hundreds to show their solidarity and uncompromising rejection of hatred in general and antisemitism in particular. Less than 24 hours since the tragedy, the Jewish community of Baltimore bonded and created a beautiful service of memorial and support.
But lets also be clear. Individual acts of hatred are hugely different from the institutionalized and organized acts of hatred and antisemitism that have become the norm for many European countries against their own Jewish populations, where iron fences and locked gates surround their synagogues, and the real fear of being Jewish pervades large swaths of that continent.
America is different. President Trump announced that he will visit Pittsburgh in the wake of the massacre, expressing the reaction of the majority of Americans. And in Pittsburgh itself, a modified version of the Steelers logo is circulating with the Star of David front and center, and well-wishers from afar are gathering to console the extended congregation of the Tree of Life. Maybe we too, as well as other Jewish congregations far and wide, should be actively involved in long-term assistance and comfort to the bereaved in Pittsburgh in showing enduring national solidarity with their unspeakable losses. The pain will endure, but the pain can also be comforted with the knowledge that others nationwide are with them always.
May the souls of the dead be bound in the bond of eternal Life… and let us say Amen.
Chaim Landau is Rabbi Emeritus of the Ner Tamid Congregation in Baltimore, Maryland.