‘We are going in the wrong direction’
What can we say? What can we pray? What will make a difference? What will change our direction? For clearly we are going in the wrong direction. Jews have been killed. Blacks have been killed. Gays have been killed. Muslims have been killed.
It is too easy to explain the slaughter in Pittsburgh as the act of a crazy anti-Semite. But this mad man had an agenda which he articulated on the internet. It was not just that all Jews must die. It was that Jews were responsible, through HIAS, for helping Muslim refugees come to America. He used this as a reason to kill Jews.
But what about anti-Semitism? It is as old as Western Civilization. It is religious; it is folk tales and blame; it is ethnic, political, and economic; it is racial; it produced a Nazi ideology that resulted in the Holocaust.
There were periods in our Jewish history where we found relief and respite from this hatred, especially in America.
Why have we thrived in America? It is because our Jewish values have so much in common with the Founding Fathers of our country.
“PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL THE INHABITANTS THEREOF” LEV. XXV X. is inscribed on the Liberty Bell.
Moses Seixas, the leader of the Jews of Newport, R.I. to George Washington:
"Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now behold a government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance - deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language, equal parts of the great governmental Machine…"
And George Washington’s response comes from the Book of Micah: “everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
But now we are afraid. However, we shall not veer from our Jewish values.
What are the values? All humans are created in the image of God.
You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
That is why Jews were prominent in the Civil Rights movement.
American Jews played a significant role in the founding and funding of some of the most important civil rights organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and others.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and other rabbis marched arm-in-arm with Dr. Martin Luther King in his 1965 March on Selma.
And that is why Jews were prominent in the Labor Movement.
Samuel Gompers, a Sephardic Jew was one of the Founders of the American Federation of Labor and led it until 1924. The ILGWU of NYC and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of Chicago became the basis of the American Labor Movement.
And that is why Jews resettled refugees.
HIAS, the spark that lit the murderous flame in this killer, expresses our ideal of helping all refugees: Founded in 1881 to help Jews fleeing the Pogroms in Russia, HIAS continued to work right through post World War II to aid Jews and other refugees.
From 1975 on HIAS helped refugees around the world to build new lives in communities. HIAS continues to resettle the most vulnerable refugees of all faiths and ethnicities from all over the world.
Tikkun Olam. Repairing the world. Caring for the world. Transcending color, nationality, and ethnicity. This is our Jewish DNA.
We ask all leaders at home, and abroad, to refrain from making statements that are unsubstantiated, or worse, untrue, and are designed to make us anxious and afraid.
Return to the roots of our nation. Remember Liberty, and the Statue of Liberty.
Because of the slaughter at the Tree of Life synagogue our fears are heightened.
However, this attack does not cower us. It strengthens us to fight on and continue our leadership to achieve a better America. And a better world.
May we remember those who were killed, injured and the first responders who were fearless in trying to stop the slaughter. May we comfort the bereaved and may God bless the United States of America.
Jerome “Jerry” E. Fischer, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut, delivered these remarks during the “Prayers for Pittsburgh” vigil held at the Temple Emanu-El in Waterford on Oct. 29. The event reflected on the killings of 11 congregants at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
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