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L’fi Dati: As I See It

Charlottesville

Last (civil) year, on Rosh Hoshana, I decried in my first day sermon the racist and xenophobic appeals in Presidential campaign rhetoric. We were implored then to imagine and return to a simpler time, a better time, a time when we were respected, a time when we were great.

I said that to me, as a Jew, those sentiments were frightening, because I know what comes next. When societies dream of returning to their golden age, people seen as different have no place.

Charlottesville is what comes next.

I must confess that I was not surprised by President Trump’s failure to name and condemn neo-nazism and white supremacy. Still, we need to be careful that the President’s relentless and unapologetic assaults on human dignity — female, LGBQT, Hispanic, Muslim, Jewish, African American, and more — do not make us cynical or passive. I know how powerful is the temptation to (literally) tune him out. Ahavat habriot, fellow feeling, empathy for other human beings is both an innate and learned feeling, and when that loving sense is violated, over and over, we employ psychological defenses. We may even avoid information, such as news reports, altogether.

These defenses are understandable, but they are also dangerous. “Whoever is able to protest against the wrongdoings of his fellow citizens and does not do so, is punished for the wrongdoings of the people of his city. Whoever is able to protest against the wrongdoings of the world and does not do so, is punished for the wrongdoings of the world” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 54b).

We suffer and we benefit from the words and actions of those around us. Social psychologist Ervin Staub in The Roots of Evil, a study of group violence, writes,“Bystanders, people who witness but are not directly affected by the actions of perpetrators, help shape society by their reactions…. Bystanders can exert powerful influence. They can define the meaning of events and move others toward empathy or indifference. They can promote values and norms of caring, or by their passivity or participation in the system they can affirm the perpetrators” (pages 86-7).

As Jews, from our Torah, we have a 3,500 year old covenant of love. We are commanded to love G-d, our neighbors (e.g. other Israelites), and the stranger (those outside our people). We remind ourselves of that covenant every time we sing the “v’ahavta/And you shall love” paragraph after the Sh’ma, and, as that paragraph implies, every time we notice the Mezuza on going in and out of doors.

This is not a partisan issue. It is a matter of upholding the fundamental values of human dignity which are our proud y’rusha, inheritance as Jews and as Americans. I am grateful for both Democratic and Republican leaders who have affirmed that shared humanity over the last three days. And I am proud of the hundreds of clergy, including Rabbis, who, under the leadership of the Charlottesville Clergy Collective, courageously provided a prayerful witness in Charlottesville.

We pray for the families of Virginia State Troopers H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates, lost in the helicopter crash, and of Heather Heyer, who was murdered in the car strike. May their loved ones find comfort in the embrace of G-d, their communities and their faith, and may we in their memory strengthen our service to our communities and country. We pray as well for the r’fu’ah, the healing of all those injured in the Charlottesville protests.

I look forward to seeing you all over the Yamim Nor’aim, the Days of Awe, and to rededicating ourselves to Torah, Avodah, Ug’milut Chasadim, to Torah study, prayer and acts of loving kindness, and so making our city and our country more compassionate and safe for all.

Shana Tova
Rabbi Weintruab

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