Rabbi's Bulletin November 2018



Last night, hundreds of congregants and guests packed our Beth Shalom sanctuary to overflowing for an interfaith memorial service of healing and unity, comfort and resolve, in the wake of last week’s murderous antisemitic attack in Pittsburgh. Participants included Jews, Christians, Muslims, and many other faiths, black Americans, white Americans, and people of many races and ethnicities, straight people, gay people, transgender people, and people of different sexual and gender orientations: all standing together to proclaim solidarity with us—the Jewish community of Bloomington—and to oppose bigotry against all groups. 

Antisemitism is an American problem, a point that Dr. Mark Roseman emphasized when he distinguished between the particularistic aspect of antisemitism, as a centuries-old hatred specifically against Jews and the Jewish people, and its universality, that is, its “intersectionality” with other marginalized groups targeted by supremacists and extremists. The overall message of the evening, however, was one of hope and conviction.

“It is a tree of life to us who hold fast it.” The Tree of Life Synagogue was the name of the congregation targeted by the terrorist. Eitz chayim hi are the words embroidered on our own cover. What do we mean, exactly, when we say “it gives life to those who hold fast to it?”

It gives life when we hold fast to our practice of Judaism, even when we are under attack. That’s why it’s crucial that we continue “business as usual” at Beth Shalom, as an act of defiance to our assailants and as an act of loyalty to our tradition. Yes, we can and will absolutely take all appropriate security measures, but we will not give in to fear.

It gives life when we hold fast to our basic Jewish values, including the often repeated commandment: “you shall love the stranger.” Congregation Beth Shalom will not curtail one bit, but redouble, our support and advocacy on behalf of refugees, undocumented immigrants, the disenfranchised, and the disadvantaged in our society. 

It gives life when we hold fast to courteous and civil discourse, by disengaging from the hate speech propagating over social media. We must guard our own tongue, and speak not words of spite and malice but only expressions of tolerance, generosity and compassion—to strangers and intimates alike. 

It gives life when we hold fast to the long view. As a people, we have endured millennia of oppression and persecution, enslavement and genocide, and yet we are still here, outliving empires and civilizations, bearing witness to the unity of God and the unity of humanity, still proclaiming our core message: that all human beings are created in the Divine Image, and that each and every life is infinitely precious.