Excerpted from The Wakefield Daily Item
WAKEFIELD — As we continue to come to terms with the massacre of congregants at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday morning, a local Jewish leader offered words of comfort, love, hope and resiliency today, all of them based in faith.
One of his messages: Despite what happened, or will happen, the vast majority of people are good.
Rabbi Greg Hersh of Temple Emmanuel on Chestnut Street said that while the tragedy in the historic Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill was indeed horrific, what has happened in its immediate aftermath shows “we are a nation filled with good people. The reaction to Saturday’s tragedy has been one of overwhelming support, with strangers and allies alike coming forward to offer their condolences and solidarity. This has been my experience in Wakefield and it’s happening all across the country – people are joining with the Jewish people to say that baseless hatred and murder are unacceptable.
“Obviously, the tragedy also teaches us that anti-semitism is alive and well in America, but the hateful people who buy into it are a small minority,” the rabbi continued.
Robert G. Bowers was one of them. He is suspected of entering the Tree of Life Synagogue Saturday during Sabbat and gunning down 11 congregants in what is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.
Those congregants were getting ready for their traditional day of worship.
“Americans are now getting accustomed to these senseless acts of terror, but attacks against pious Jews are not a new or recent phenomenon,” Hersh said. “In the 2nd century CE, during a persecution in the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian, the ancient rabbis developed the concept of dying ‘Al Kiddush Hashem,’ for the sanctity of God, and those who are murdered for the sake of being Jewish are considered kedoshim, holy beings. Unfortunately, there are millions of Jews over the centuries who have given their lives Al Kiddush Hashem and have become holy, with 11 more recently added to the list. While Jewish wisdom cannot prevent the murder of its people, it does offer various kinds of consolation in times of grief.
“There’s a Jewish idiom, ‘The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the essential thing is to have no fear at all.’ The world has inherent dangers, but we must always find a way to push forward.
“While persecutions are an unfortunate theme throughout Jewish history, this is certainly the worst episode in American Jewish history. Many Jewish people came to America not just for economic opportunity, but also for the protections of the First Amendment, the freedoms of religion and speech. And just as those protections have been our shield, we will now use them as our weapon. The pen IS mightier than the sword. In the marketplace of ideas, we know that love is superior to baseless hatred. We will use the power of love to come together and heal,” the rabbi explained.
In response to Saturday’s devastating tragedy, Temple Emmanuel will be hosting a special service this Friday called Solidarity Shabbat: Remembering Pittsburgh at 7 p.m. at Temple Emmanuel. All are welcome to join congregants as they unite in remembrance of the 11 martyrs, and hear from town leaders about how they ensure the wellbeing of all minorities in Wakefield.
Hersh added, “As Gandhi said, ‘A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.'”
The rabbi was also asked whether we are heading down a deadly path as a nation.
He answered, “While there has been a noticeable uptick in hostility towards others, the vast majority of Americans decry this kind of hatred and violence. These are big news stories precisely because they’re so appalling. Americans seem to want America to be the country it has always been, a nation of immigrants united under one flag. Our diversity is a hallmark of American exceptionalism.
“There are no easy solutions for how to combat hatred and evil. Free speech allows Americans to spew hatred, but it also allows us to promote love and goodness. So far, the voices of in favor of love and goodness have triumphed over evil. While one man created terror, thousands of people have come together to create support and harmony. I hope and expect that Americans will continue to decry senseless acts of violence and promote a culture where we recognize and appreciate differences,” the rabbi concluded.