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After Pittsburgh

Below are Rabbi Weintraub’s sermon on the occasion of #SolidarityShabbat on November 3, a nationally organized Shabbat to commemorate the victims of anti-semiitc violence on October 27 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. We were also honored to have our member, and Executive Vice President of Jewish Federations of North America, Mark Gurvis, speak movingly from the Bimah. His remarks can be found in this Facebook post. You can also read the statement made in the immediate aftermath by Rabbi Weintraub and Congregation President Adina Solomon, here.


Dear friends,

We are here, in large numbers, full of fear and sadness. How could this happen in our country? In a Synagogue in so many way like ours? On the sacred Shabbat Day?

And what can we do now? What can do with our uncertainty and anguish?

Our first instincts are healthy. We have this innate sense that there is some place to which we can turn our troubled minds and souls. We need to do something, with our grief, with this new sense of vulnerability. More than anything we need not to be alone. So we get up. We go to the Synagogue. We turn to each other. And we turn to G-d.

This morning’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, concluded the stories of the first generation, Avraham and Sarah. More than any other family in the Torah, G-d is seen as walking with Avraham and Sarah. G-d does not admonish or judge or even generally instruct them, but stands beside them, as an encouraging presence even in the midst of challenging trials.

So now we turn to G-d . We pray for more clarity, and confidence, and strength.

And we pray for these eleven souls. An heroic, early AIDS doctor, loyal Synagogue volunteers, a Holocaust survivor, a dentist, an accountant, a retired couple, a teacher.

These eleven innocent souls, pillars of the Jewish community of Squirrel Hill, were taken last Shabbat.

Now, at the conclusion of Shiva, we remember and honor them on this Shabbat.

Shabbat has two aspects. It is seen, first, as a climax of creation when we stop transformative activity and rest.

Shabbat is also a prelude to the next week. We take the K’dusha,the sanctity which we imbibe on this day and it gives us the inspiration, the spiritual force to return to the world on Sunday, and, like Avraham and Sarah, spread tzedaka u’mishpat, righteousness and justice.

So let us return after this Shabbat to our broken world, knowing that we are supported by our community and by G-d.

Let us help the Squirrel Hill and Pittsburgh communities, including the four police officers who were injured protecting us.

Let us fight against the toxin of anti-Semitism which is growing, in France, in Germany, in our country, on College campuses, even, as the ADL tell us, in High Schools and Lower Schools.

Let us respond to intimidation by celebrating, even more proudly, our Jewish lives, by leaning more, keeping kosher more, observing more, wearing your Kippah or Magen David more, praying more, traveling to Israel more, talking more about Judaism with your non-Jewish colleagues and friends, at work or at the club, and if you feel ill-equipped then come here and learn first.

Let us strengthen our commitment to the vulnerable, the persecuted.

As Tree of Life Synagogue, we are a partner of HIAS, so let us work more stridently, more urgently for refugees and immigrants, who are now bashed without pause by our White House.

Let us be conscious of our fear and push back against the fear-inducing messages which we hear every day, because it is fear which leads to anti-semitism, racism, and homophobia, to alienation, crime, and violence.

As public health writer Dr. Marc Siegel says, in one of many favorite quotes on this matter, “Anthrax is not contagious; fear of anthrax is.”

And let us never give up.

Yiddin Nisht M”ya’esh! Jews do not despair!” was the motto of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav.

Never give up on a strong, safe and enlightened Jewish future.

Never give up on returning this country to decency.

Never give up on realizing the dream of co-existence of Israelis and Palestinians.

Never give up on securing dignity for Jews, for Latinos, for African Americans, for American Muslims, for girls and women, LGBQT people, for anybody who suffers from harassment or violence or marginalization. As the Talmud instructs, Jews should empathize with the nirdaf, those pursued, persecuted, not with the rodef, the pursuer.

And for all the fear of the past week, don’t forget the power we have to create a more just world because of our affluence, education, political influence, rich moral heritage and yes, the security, which we enjoy in this wonderful country.

We’re going to close shortly with sections of Psalm 92 and Psalm 126, two Psalms especially associated with the Shabbat.

These two Pslams share a common theme, that wickedness can do a great deal of damage but eventually it defeats itself.

In Psalm 92, the Psalm of the Shabbat day, we read, “Bifro’ach r’sha’im k’mo eisev, v’yatzi’tzu kol po’alei aven”, “Though the wicked sprout like grass and evil doers flourish, they are destined to be destroyed forever.”

That is an ikar, a central principle of our faith.

And it is a lesson from history.

Titus, Hadrian, Torquemada, Stalin, Hitler are all gone.

We and our Torah have survived.

So I believe that terrorism and the forces that would frighten and divide us today will be defeated because this world which G-d created seems unable to tolerate oppression and evil forever.

I close with a quote from Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and murdered by religious fanatics. He once told an interviewer:

“Terrorism is a psychological weapon. It stops you from claiming the world as your own. It stops you from relating to other people. It creates fear and hatred. The only way to fight terrorism as a citizen is to deny them those emotions….the one thing they are not expecting is my happiness. That is true revenge.”

Evil will consume itself, and, meanwhile, we will sing. Please join me in singing Psalms 92 and 126, at the end of your program.

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