The events that unfolded on Shabbat in Pittsburgh have left all of us shocked and saddened. This was the first murder of Jews in their place of worship in the history of the USA and the shock there is almost palpable. We are writing to you as news of the names and ages of the victims has reached us, and our initial feelings are compounded by increased empathy for the fact that there were two brothers, a husband and wife, and eleven names that sound familiar and could appear on any synagogue’s membership list.
Our condolences go to the families of those murdered, and our thoughts and prayers are for those injured, in one case, critically. Rabbi Richard has sent an email message of condolence and solidarity from both of us to Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers, the rabbi, and Dr. Sam Schachner, President, of the Tree of Life Or L’Shalom Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
At one level, these were the actions of a ‘lone wolf’. At another level, this attack and some of the comments that have been made following it are symptomatic of a malaise we must fight with all our combined strength and resolve.
To say, as President Trump did within hours of the attack that, had their been armed security staff in the synagogue, the outcome might have been less bad, is horrendous.
To say, as Baroness Tonge did yesterday, that we should remember those killed in Gaza at this time, is to conflate two different situations in a manner that at least borders on a form of anti-semitism.
To refuse, as did the Chief Rabbi of Israel in Jerusalem today, to call the scene of the attack a synagogue, because it is not orthodox, is to peddle sinat chinam – groundless hatred between Jews.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, our sister movement in the USA and Canada, concluded his message of condolence by saying: “What we know is this: the fabric holding our nation together is fraying. It is our task to ensure that it does not come apart.”
This is true for us in the UK as well. Our task is to respond with renewed resolve and commitment to our core values. We will prove that we are better people by remaining calm and refusing to be provoked to angry reaction. We will redouble our efforts to support and build a diverse, mutually respecting and caring society.
Join the congregation next Shabbat! Support our Mitzvah Day projects! Please – do not let anger at this latest attack derail the good we can and must keep doing within our synagogue and in the wider society around us.
Rabbi Richard Jacobi and Stewart Spivack