Yehudah Halevi, the great Spanish poet and physician of the 12th century, famously said about his yearning to return to Zion,
Libi B’mizrach V’anochi B’sof Maarav
My heart is in the East but I am in the West
Tonight, I wish to reverse his words: I am standing in the East, but my heart is in the West. My heart is in Western Pennsylvania with the victims of the Tree of Life massacre.
The victims were all in their fifties or older, reaching Rose Mallinger’s 97 years of age. They had all attained the point of at least beginning to contemplate their own mortality, and they had every right to leave this world, at the time of God’s choosing, surrounded by friends, family and loved ones.
Instead, the last things they saw in this world were the eyes of a crazed and hateful madman and the point of a gun. That they witnessed this atrocity from inside a synagogue, inside a house of worship, a house of peace and study and meditation, made this tragedy all the more unbearable.
There are no words to comfort the families, the mourners or the community. Synagogue attacks like those in Har Nof and Mercaz Harav and elsewhere throughout Israel and the rest of the world, never happened before on American soil. This was never supposed to happen on American soil!
But as the Passover Haggadah famously says,
B’chol dor vador omdim aleinu l’chalotenu
In every generation they will rise up and attempt to destroy us
But as the Haggadah continues, those seeking to destroy us, to destroy the Jewish people, to destroy our values, our freedoms, the Judeo-Christian pillars on which American democracy was built – they have failed and they will continue to fail.
How can we ensure that failure?
After the Holocaust, and for the generations that ensued, I often heard the mantra – Hitler must be denied a posthumous victory. The message, less cryptically translated, was that with the threat of Nazi Germany abated, the Jewish people must rebuild, with strength, commitment and love so that they will remain unified, even as they recover their freedom and pursue diverse paths. That mantra took us to a very good place. Hitler indeed has failed and the Jewish community today, here and in the Diaspora, is the best evidence, and indeed irrefutable evidence, of that fact.
The monster who killed 11 precious souls in Pittsburgh must also be denied a victory. As he sits in his cell, and as he rots in hell in the future, we must never allow him the satisfaction that he so craves of inflicting lasting damage upon the Jewish people. We can never allow ourselves to be divided over the pointless exercise of assigning blame to anyone but the killer himself. It plays right into his sick and demented mind!
As I’ve said many times before, I love my job. But I do have the heartbreaking task and privilege of visiting the victims of terror here in Israel – most of them are Jews who, like the Etz Chaim eleven, were murdered for no other reason than being Jewish. I’ve made these visits more than a dozen times in just 18 months at my post.
Israeli society is as diverse as it gets. There are many political parties representing all the points view we see in America and even more. But when Jews are murdered by terrorists, the arguments stop . . . at least for a while, and there are fundamental expressions of grief and resolve that unite a diverse nation. We also see that here every year on Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron, when traffic comes to a complete stop even along major highways, to honor and remember those who lost their lives in battle against enemies of the Jewish people.
It’s an example worth studying and even following. We must unite around this tragedy – it is the response that the victims deserve and the only response that will assure the killer’s ultimate failure.
When he was asked to explain the Torah within the time period that he could stand on one leg, the great Talmudic sage, Hillel the Elder, put it simply: “That which is hateful to you do not do to another.”
How right Hillel was. How prescient were his words from some 2000 years ago. These are our marching orders. This is our culture, our belief and the basis of our society. And this is what will unite and carry us forward.
We haven’t always lived up to that paradigm. Indeed the Second Temple was destroyed because of gratuitous hatred within the Jewish community. And so we must always turn gratuitous hatred into gratuitous love – “Ahavat Chinam.”
We all know in our hearts what is right and what we must do. To honor the memory of the victims, let us redouble our resolve to love each other, to respect each other, and most importantly, to unite against the true forces of hatred and evil and eradicate them forever.
Let us prove the Haggadah wrong and help to create a generation free from the scourge of anti-Semitism. With all of our help, and God’s will, may it be done.
May the injured, including the incredibly brave Pittsburgh police officers who ran into the line of fire, have a full and complete recovery.
And, as to the lives that were lost:
T’hei Nishmotam Tzrura b’tzror Hachaim
May the souls of the victims be bound in eternal life
T’hi nishmotam baruch
And may their memories always be a blessing to their loved ones and all those who have survived