It was a wonderful Bar Mitzvah on Saturday morning. The young man led our service beautifully and his family beamed throughout. I was aware that my phone was vibrating more than usual, but I assumed it was typical iPhone notifications. As the family hugged each other at the end of the service, I finally had a chance to check my phone — something had happened in Pittsburgh, and my friends, family, and congregation were concerned.
At the time, I could not imagine the extent of the horror. The thought that kept coming back to me was that we had been doing the same thing in Wayland as they were doing in Squirrel Hill. We had gathered in a synagogue to celebrate Shabbat, to celebrate a sacred moment in a family’s journey, and to be together as a community. Our service had ended with hugs, laughter, and joy; their service was cruelly cut short by a vicious and brutal assault.
In the darkness of the day it was hard to see any light. But then messages began arriving. By the time Saturday ended, I had heard from virtually every religious group in our town of Wayland. All of them had similar sentiments of shared outrage and sadness accompanied by offers of support and strength. In the darkness of that moment, it was our neighbors from Wayland’s beautiful tapestry of religious groups that gave me light.
We live in challenging and difficult times. And while the suspected gunman posted horrible and hateful messages against the Jews, in reality this was an attack against all of us. Those who hate tend to hate indiscriminately and often reserve their anger for religious communities.
Religion, in its truest and purest form, stands as a complete rejection of hatred, bigotry, racism, and prejudice. At the core of the Abrahamic religions is an understanding that we all share a common ancestor. There is a Jewish understanding that we are all descended from Adam and Eve, so that no one will say to their neighbor that my parent was greater than yours. There is an understanding that, despite our differences, we are united by a common humanity and that this shared foundation is stronger than what divides.
Unfortunately, we live in a society where our political leaders are especially well versed and adept at separating us into groups, dividing along a variety of lines so that we are reduced to “them” and “us.” This divisive politics has been coupled by an unwillingness by some to fully condemn acts of racism, hatred, and violence (think Charlottesville in 2017). The seeds of enmity have been sown, and the most violent and hateful groups and individuals now feel emboldened to act in atrocious ways.
President George Washington wrote to the Touro Synagogue, in Newport, R.I., that the Government of the United States “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” These are our American values, the ideals that we should be living up to, and they yet feel glaringly absent today.
In the Bible we read about the world becoming corrupt and wicked, God sending a flood to wipe out the earth, with Noah and his family as the sole survivors. The symbol given to the world that God would not wipe us out again was a rainbow. The rainbow brings together seven different colors, creating a whole, which is significantly more spectacular and beautiful than the sum of its parts. It represents the different elements that make up the human race. We come in all shapes, sizes, colors, creeds, religions, and races. Each group possesses an individual beauty, but it is together that humanity is truly spectacular and awe inspiring.
In the aftermath of the tragedy in Pittsburgh, it has been the rainbow of support from across our greater community that gives me hope that there can, and will, be a brighter future.
Rabbi Danny Burkeman is the senior rabbi of Temple Shir Tikva in Wayland.