October 29, 2018
It was a beautiful Sabbath day in Israel this past week. It was especially joyful for me and my family as we had the privilege of hosting a brit milah, a baby boy naming and circumcision ceremony, in our home. The new mother – a close friend of mine – and her husband, had tried to have a baby for years. Finally, after many prayers and tears, they experienced the magical moment when their child entered the Covenant of Abraham.
Not an eye was dry when the father of the baby recited the traditional blessing: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to enter him into the Covenant of Abraham our father.”
Thousands of miles away, at the same time that we were celebrating this happy occasion, my brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh were preparing to go to a brit of their own. Another Jewish baby boy would enter the Covenant of Abraham like his ancestors did before him. Friends and family set out for the Tree of Life Synagogue in order to carry on this 3,000-year-old tradition.
But this celebration of life was shattered by the bullets of an enemy who desired death. “All these Jews must die!” the murderer called out as he took the lives of 11 innocent men and women – most of them elderly, including a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor.
As soon as the Sabbath concluded in Israel, I became aware of the horrific attack. I was in shock and in pain. I could hardly believe what had happened. In America? In 2018?
As I tried to wrap my head around the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history, I thought about the victims and the moments before the deadly tragedy unfolded.
Was the rabbi giving a sermon about that week’s Torah portion? Was a little boy on his way to the “candy-man,” the congregant who gives out candy to children in order to teach them that prayer is sweet? Was a young girl about to celebrate her bat-mitzvah? Were the grandparents and parents of the new baby present, awaiting his brit milah?
Unfortunately this massacre is a sober reminder of what it means to enter the Covenant of Abraham. It is a privilege and a blessing, but it also comes with pain and suffering. No people have suffered more in the last 2,000 years than the Jewish people. We have been persecuted, exiled, tortured, murdered, expelled, and vilified for millennia.
America has been a breath of fresh air, providing a safe haven for the Jewish people. Will it continue to be that way?
Here are some facts that we should take seriously: Anti-Semitism is drastically on the rise globally and in America. Last year, 2017, saw 57% more anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. than in 2016. The statistics for 2018 aren’t out yet, but I think we can guess which way the trend is headed. Experts have said that we haven’t experienced this level of anti-Semitism since World War II.
Our Christian friends give me hope for the future. Millions of them proudly self-identify as Christian Zionists, thus making themselves the target of hatred as well. Yet it doesn’t deter them from standing strong with Israel and the Jewish people.
I am encouraged by all that we, Jews and Christians, have already achieved working side by side. It has never been more important for people of faith to come together and help each other. As our shared canon directs us in Leviticus 19:18, we must love our neighbors as ourselves.
Ultimately, what we agree upon is far more important than our differences. History need not repeat itself. Together, we can stomp out this evil and remove it from the world forever.
It’s about time.