Message from Michael
November 5, 2018Post Pittsburgh It’s been just over a week since the horrific shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Eleven congregants were killed and several injured simply because they were Jewish. Six members of the police force were wounded as they sought to stop the gunman and protect the other congregants. Last week was a week of funerals, a week of mourning for lives lost and a week of praying for refuah shlemah, speedy recovery for those injured. We came together as a community last week. Five thousand strong at the community vigil at Adas Israel on Monday night followed by vigils and prayer services throughout the community. We needed to be together. We needed the support of each other as we processed this heinous hate crime that we couldn’t imagine happening. While shivas are coming to a close and the injured are physically improving, we know that the emotional healing in Pittsburgh and the American Jewish community is just beginning. I expect it will take a long time before we feel that our sanctuaries are again sanctuaries. According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were almost 2,000 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, over a 50% increase from the year before. Pittsburgh reminded us that despite how much we believe that we, as Jews, have integrated into American society, some will always consider us “the other.” Beyond the mourning, recovery and healing, we now must determine how we will move forward as individuals and institutions. We cannot just bemoan the acts of intolerance, hate and incivility that keep repeating over and over. As individuals, we need to act. We need to vote. We need to come together with other faith communities and like-minded Americans to speak out for the America that we want to create, “one nation, indivisible” by race, religion, ethnicity, gender identity, or country of origin. Together, we must insist on kindness and civility. We must speak with our children about what is acceptable speech and what isn’t. We need to build more bridges and find common ground even when we disagree about issues. The Bender JCC has a role to play as well. Montgomery County is a majority, minority county in which the Jewish population accounts for almost 10% of the total. Our county is very diverse with many needs. The JCC can bring diverse opinions and ideas to our town square of the Jewish community so that we can each hear more voices and more opinions than just our own. We can play a critical role in advancing civility and democracy. We can strengthen our community by providing more opportunities to come together in a safe space to create new and stronger bonds between us. If all we do in the wake of Pittsburgh is look inward and focus on our own fears then we will miss the opportunity create the change we want to see. The purpose of the Bender JCC includes connecting our Jewish community with the broader community. By partnering with other organizations and serving as a town square that brings the diversity of our community together, maybe, in our small corner of the world we can start to create the America we want to believe in. At many of the prayer services this past week we sang Olam Chesed Yibaneh: I will build this world from love. I can’t think of a better place to start individually and as a JCC.