HOUSES OF WORSHIP
Dispelling Hate with Love
When the News of Davidson asked me to write some words about what happened in Pittsburgh, I didn’t know what to say. There are no profound or holy words that can make sense of the murderous violence that took place on a peaceful Sabbath morning. So I’ll start with a very personal experience of fatherhood.
My five year old asked me why there was a police car parked on the front lawn of the synagogue. I told him simply, “to help keep people safe.” He replied simply, “but I always feel safe at the temple.”
I was both happy that the events in Pittsburgh had not scarred him to his core as they have so many Jews and all those who love those Jews. Profound sadness overwhelms me still as I think that in just a year or two he will become aware of the terror that hate can bring. He will come to know that because he is Jewish there are individuals and groups that will view him as less than human. As he matures he will become keenly aware that others will stand idly by while evil words are spewed. He will learn that words matter and can contribute to havoc, destruction and death.
I carry those tragic thoughts with me every time I wear my yarmulke in public or lead a prayer service at the synagogue. I consider how far I could throw my prayerbook should an armed intruder enter our sanctuary. Most members of Jewish community above the age of ten entertain those thoughts of what should be unthinkable. My son, our children…all our children…shouldn’t have to.
The attack in Pittsburgh represents the single most violent incident against a Jewish Community in the history of the United States. This anti-Semitic hate crime comes at a time when the Anti-Defamation League has reported a historic increase in both antisemitic incidents and antisemitic online harassment. In the weeks preceding and in the days after the terror attack, there were at least two anti-semitic incidents in our town of Davidson. No religious or minority group should live in fear, and it is incumbent on our national leadership to ensure a culture of tolerance in our country.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism wrote: “This time the Jewish community was targeted. Other times it has been African-Americans. Or Sikhs. Or Muslims. Or members of the LGBTQ community. Or too many others. What we know is this: the fabric holding our nation together is fraying. It is our task to ensure that it does not come apart….”
Forget about our nation for a moment. The conversation and action around true cultural change that vanquishes hate, or at least puts it back in its rightful place of absolute disdain, must begin locally: in our state, in our county, in our town, in our homes. In my ten years living here, the number of incidents of hate that I have heard about in our schools abound. Unfortunately, if we gathered our teens and just scratched the surface, I am confident that daily incidents of intolerance and hate would bubble to the surface. I fear that the cult of personality and culture of bullying in our schools is more profoundly present and impactful than a community of love that honors the innate holiness of every individual.
The week that has the past was a week in which we, as the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) says, dwelt in the valley of tears, recalling our fallen sisters and brothers who were killed in this horrific tragedy. We said and continue to say, “Tehyenah nafshoteihen tzrurot bi-tzror hahayim – may the souls of those murdered in Pittsburgh be bound up in the bond of eternal life.” But next week is a time of reckoning for the toxicity plaguing us and how to go about repairing it.
Part of the answer is found in this beautiful message from a Davidson College Student who is on the basketball team. I have received numerous messages from players on the team and they have lifted me and others during these difficult days. His message and my response is below:
I am a member of the Men’s basketball team here at Davidson College. Coach McKillop shared your email with us in hopes that we would reach out. The events of the past week, in Pittsburg and on Davidson’s campus, have been painful and shocking. In fact, I have been trying avoiding the word “shock” until today. Understanding the history of anti-semitism and racism in this country and having the experience my teammates and I had this summer makes me feel naive in acting like such actions and beliefs are unprecedented. History lives on for much longer than it is ever acknowledged. That being said, these events are all the same heartbreaking, and I am taken aback by the anti-semitic writing that occurred on a Davidson white board.
All this is to say that I, and my teammates, stand with you. Though I was not raised Jewish, I have Jewish blood, and our trip to Auschwitz this summer was very much transformative for me. I saw first hand my last name filling pages and pages of the book of the victims, and was reminded the immense value and power of one single life, let alone six million. I was also taught that one can find beauty and hope in even the darkest of places. We have all pledged to preserve respect and human dignity and will continue to do so, and it is apparent that it is as important than ever. While we are busy preparing for our games, please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.
We dispel hate with love. We vanquish ignorance with knowledge. The pain that Jews feel because of what happened in Pittsburgh is felt to the core. It brings us back in some ways to Auschwitz. Words matter because words give tacit approval to those who would act on that hatred. Your words matter because they spread love for one’s fellow human being. Sharing your story; standing with your Jewish brothers and sisters; speaking out with holy words when one hears unholy words; Bringing love into the mainstream and pushing hate out.
Please share your words with your classmates at the College privately, but also do it publicly.
I weep tears of hope and gratitude. Your words have comforted and strengthened me for the road ahead.
More light. More Life. These are the words borne on the emblem of the Tree of Life at Or L’smicha (Tree of Life) Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We must all cry out from our depths for justice, love and peace. Oseh Shalom Bimromav – may the One who makes peace, bring peace to us and to all the world. We pray these words as a reminder to continue to seek peace and wholeness even as evil darkens our world. May the light of peace and wholeness bring comfort to the pain and grief.
Words matter. Love must always _______ hate. (purposeful blank)
Bio-Rabbi Michael Shields
Rabbi Michael came to the Lake Norman region as the first full-time Rabbi in 2008. The congregation has grown from 55 families to nearly 200 families; from 40 children in religious school to 150, and from limited monthly services, programming and community time to weekly shabbat services.