From Our President
Dear Temple Family,
I know you join me in mourning the victims of Saturday’s terrorist attack in Pittsburgh.
For those who have not had the time or stomach to read the reporting, the terrorist attacked Tree of Life because he believed spurious conspiracy theories involving Holocaust-survivor George Soros and supposed Jewish involvement in a plot to import dangerous foreigners into America and seize control of American political power. When the white nationalists marched in Charlottesville with their torches and chanted “Jews will not replace us!” this is the delusional conspiracy theory their screams referenced.
Sadly, shades and tangents of this conspiracy theory have entered the mainstream. Several prominent public figures and elected officials have repeated these Soros-related anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on social media, heightening the hysteria around refugees and immigration and adding legitimacy to the fear mongers and terrorists. We should all be aware that this thinly veiled anti-Semitic rhetoric is now public and increasingly publicly acceptable.
My sorrow has been significantly deepened by the knowledge that the terrorist targeted Tree of Life because of the community’s association with HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society). As you know, HIAS was instrumental in resettling many of our families in America after the Holocaust. Today HIAS works to resettle economic, political and religious refugees from around the world. They help some of the globe’s most vulnerable families reach safety. I cannot imagine an organization that more gracefully embodies Jewish values. In the aftermath of the attack, I donated to HIAS in memory of the victims in Pittsburgh, and I would be honored if others were moved to do the same.
“You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt,” God commands us. Realizing this commandment is the project of HIAS, and the reason Tree of Life was brutally attacked. God commands us to empathy, to feel the desperation of the refugee searching for a better life. It is possible to uphold the integrity of our nation’s borders while practicing compassion for those who arrive on our shores seeking safety. We know this to be true, because our parents and grandparents told us the stories of their arrival in this strange land seeking safety. It is a shame we do not remember these stories better. It is a shame we have been deceived into believing that redressing oppression through simple human kindness is a political act rather than a demand of our faith and common humanity. But the greatest shame lies with the demagogues and fear mongers who have taken what is best about the American Jewish experience—our capacity for compassion—and turned it into a xenophobic fever dream with such deadly consequences.
In the coming month, the Board of Directors will need to make determinations about how to live as a community in this new world. What changes will we need to make to our protocols and behaviors? Will we need to make adjustments to our antiquated infrastructure to make us more secure? What—if anything—will make us feel safe again?
According to the ADL, today’s act of terrorism represents the deadliest attack on the American Jewish community in our history. Let us be moved to respond with fresh empathy other marginalized communities who have been targeted by hatred, violence and demagoguery. Let us be moved to respond with compassion, love for one another, and love for the strangers we do not know.
Board of Directors