This weekend we remember 11 victims of violence and seething anti-Semitism on the one-year anniversary of the attack at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life/ L’Or Simcha Synagogue. We remember them because they represented the very foundation of every thriving synagogue. These were the faithful attendees who literally rushed to services on Shabbat for the pleasure derived from prayer and a day devoted to rest.
In some cases they were elderly and had lost many loved ones and friends. Attendance at synagogue brought them a sense of belonging and a connection to a greater community. In some cases their attendance was an essential element in establishing a minimal male quorum for prayer – what we call a minyan – and they were proud to be needed.
The rabbis tell us that observance of Shabbat is the central religious holiday in Judaism. We observe it every week without fail and its observance and the restrictions associated with it can preempt or give greater prominence to other holidays that fall on Shabbat.
Thus it is that the tragedy of the worst attack on American Jewry occurred on a Sabbath. And, of course, exactly six months later another egregious attack occurred on Shabbat in the Chabad of Poway building north of San Diego. This time it claimed the life of another righteous woman, a congregant who stood in the way of a hail of bullets in order to shield her rabbi from harm.
The history of anti-Semitism is marked with terrible instances of inhumanity that occurred throughout Europe. We have seen hate rise its ugly head in South America and even in Asia. It was, in fact, pogroms waged against our Jewish brethren that brought waves of immigrants to our country seeking a better life and the freedom to worship in our own fashion.
So this Shabbat let us consider that we in America are no longer safe and can no longer count on the freedom to practice our faith that had been guaranteed to us by the Constitution and promised by no less than President George Washington himself.
One of Washington’s favorite passages from the Old Testament is found in three places in the Jewish canon, but the first part from Micah 4:4 reads: “They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree.” That was the part he referred to when promising the Jews of America that we would be able to worship and conduct ourselves in liberty.
But then we turn to its concluding passage ” And none shall make them afraid.”
We cannot claim comfort from that passage any longer. We are afraid. And we have a right to be concerned about our loved ones and ourselves, particularly in a climate where anti-Semitism appears to be on the rise.
When we pray this Shabbat, we should consider these victims as well as those affected by the Holocaust that began with Kristallnacht almost 81 years ago.
Like them, we are not safe and that needs to change now.