Like you, we are reeling from the latest violence that has rocked the country and the unconscionable rhetoric inspiring wave after wave of violence targeting communities of color, Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ+ folks, migrants, refugees, and folks engaged in political work. In the midst of escalating racist and xenophobic rhetoric about the caravan of refugees fleeing violence in their home countries to seek asylum (which may be met with 6,000 military troops deployed to the border, further militarizing border communities in response to a humanitarian crisis), right-wing violence is surging, from pipe bombs being mailed to political scapegoats of the current administration to shootings in Louisville and Pittsburgh. Today’s announcement that Trump is going after the 14th Amendment via executive order has us feeling nervous about another round of emboldened violence.
“Words may fail us, but actions cannot”
Like many synagogues and faith centers across Oregon, our friends at Temple Beth Israel in Eugene held a standing room only vigil Sunday evening at their synagogue where they offered spiritual and community guidance and leadership. Temple Beth Israel’s own Rabbi Emeritus Rabbi Yitzhak Husbands-Hankin was in Pittsburgh and led the service at Tree of Light Synagogue the night before the shooting.
Nina Korican, Executive Director of Temple Beth Israel shared, with credit to Rabbi Simon Jacobson and to Rabbi Eli Herb for some of the following words:
We are left utterly silent, overwhelmed by the unfathomable massacre of innocent lives in Pittsburgh. When we are left with no words and just tears, we can either sink, forget, or turn to forces beyond us which offer us some comfort and resilience.
Judaism, which has empowered the Jewish people to recover and rebuild through the harshest circumstances, teaches that there are three steps to dealing with tragedy:
First: we can and must cry out to each other, to G-d and to the heavens. Faith dictates that we do not remain passive and accepting.
Second: silence is the ultimate answer to the biggest question of all: why? Our minds simply do not have the ability to explain or justify the suffering of the innocent. Indeed, it would be an act of arrogance and vulgar for any human to attempt to understand these mysteries. A mind, no matter how brilliant, cannot speak to a bleeding heart.
Third, and above all: we don’t ask why, but what. What will we do about the tragedy? We must learn to harness and channel our blood-boiling anger and outrage, our shock and trauma, our grief and agony into a powerful passionate revolution of good. These feelings are potent fuel to create true change. Grief and outrage are like fire: unchanneled it will consume you. Channeled it will transform you, and everyone around you.
Words may fail us, but actions cannot. The Jewish community has already come together over this issue; thousands of emails, blogs, and websites have called upon Jews around the world to say Psalms, give charity, and do acts of kindness.
We can all put our grief, our disbelief, our desire to do something into action – and we must do it quickly. The only way to dispel darkness is through generating new Light.
Rabbi Ruhi Sophia Motzkin Rubenstein, who was out of town at the time, had a colleague convey her thoughts:
Your presence together this evening is not just an act of solidarity. It is an act of resistance. The shooter and the culture he represents want us to be isolated and afraid. They want all of our energy to be on the defensive, hunkering down, making ourselves smaller. They want us to disappear. This is true whether the target is a black church, a queer nightclub or a synagogue.
No matter who wants us to disappear, no matter who is targeted, we defy them best by showing up for each other, by gathering allies together, and by being in solidarity with all marginalized people, all people of good faith. We defy them by being active for our vision of a better world.
We defy them by living large!
Fortunately, the strategies by which we defy them happen to be the same strategies by which we keep our own souls and our community healthy, and, in this community, the strategies by which we show our children that being Jewish means many things, but being a victim is not one of them.
Our children – all Jewish children – need to see us modeling a culture of joy and solidarity. So if you are Jewish and this is the first time you’ve been to synagogue in awhile, I want to encourage you to do one thing this week that is a positive, joyful identification with Judaism. Light Shabbat candles. Come to services. Show that we are not just Jewish in reaction to something.
To all of the allies here tonight: thank you. You help us be brave. If I can make one request of you allies beyond what you have already done, it is that you show your solidarity outside of this building as well. Challenge anti-Semitic rhetoric – and there is plenty of it – in the public sphere.
There is so much work to be done. We can only hope to do it if we take good care of ourselves and each other. As Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught: the whole entire world is a very narrow bridge; the essential thing is not to give in to fear. Thank you all for refusing to give in to fear. May we stay courageous together.
Our shared rural values in action
We speak often of our shared values — human dignity, democracy for all, just and welcoming communities — because not only are they what unites us, but also because our values are what lead us to action. Please join us in action, generating new light in this moment of darkness, and know that ROP is here to support your organizing if you would like some help! Please don’t hesitate to send an email or give us a ring.
- Participate in or organize a vigil.
- Gather your friends for a living room conversation on antisemitism – this is an opportunity to bring folks together in a safe place to openly discuss what antisemitism looks like in our communities and in national political spaces. There are a number of powerful resources to guide your conversation and we highly recommend Understanding Antisemitism from Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.
- Make sure that you and everyone you know has voted – get those ballots in the mail by tomorrow or dropped in an official ballot box by next Tuesday, November 6th! Check out the STAND Voter Guide as a resource on the ballot measures and beyond.
- Reach out to your neighbors – especially your neighbors of color, Jewish, Muslim, migrant, and refugee neighbors – and let them know you are there for them. Build relationships, bring food, bring flowers, and ask how you can have their back. Ask your faith community to reach out to area synagogues and Islamic faith centers to strengthen those institutional relationships.
- If your house of worship isn’t already committed to providing Sanctuary, now is a powerful moment to have that conversation.
In moments like this, the confusion, fear, anger, and grief can feel overwhelming. But we also know that in joining together with our friends and neighbors we can overcome the differences that divide us, and we can create the communities we want and need. It is easy to feel isolated and alone in our towns, especially right now, but we remember that we are part of a living and loving movement for human dignity with all of you, and movement that grows brighter in the face of adversity. That is something we are inexpressibly grateful for.
V’ahavta by Aurora Levins Morales
Say these words when you lie down and when you rise up,
when you go out and when you return. In times of mourning
and in times of joy. Inscribe them on your doorposts,
embroider them on your garments, tattoo them on your shoulders,
teach them to your children, your neighbors, your enemies,
recite them in your sleep, here in the cruel shadow of empire:
Another world is possible.
Thus spoke the prophet Roque Dalton:
All together they have more death than we,
but all together, we have more life than they.
There is more bloody death in their hands
than we could ever wield, unless
we lay down our souls to become them,
and then we will lose everything. So instead,
imagine winning. This is your sacred task.
This is your power. Imagine
every detail of winning, the exact smell of the summer streets
in which no one has been shot, the muscles you have never
unclenched from worry, gone soft as newborn skin,
the sparkling taste of food when we know
that no one on earth is hungry, that the beggars are fed,
that the old man under the bridge and the woman
wrapping herself in thin sheets in the back seat of a car,
and the children who suck on stones,
nest under a flock of roofs that keep multiplying their shelter.
Lean with all your being towards that day
when the poor of the world shake down a rain of good fortune
out of the heavy clouds, and justice rolls down like waters.
Defend the world in which we win as if it were your child.
It is your child.
Defend it as if it were your lover.
It is your lover.
When you inhale and when you exhale
breathe the possibility of another world
into the 37.2 trillion cells of your body
until it shines with hope.
Then imagine more.
Imagine rape is unimaginable. Imagine war is a scarcely credible rumor
That the crimes of ourage, the grotesque inhumanities of greed,
the sheer and astounding shamelessness of it, the vast fortunes
made by stealing lives,the horrible normalcy it came to have,
is unimaginable to ourheirs, the generations of the free.
Don’t waver. Don’t let despair sink its sharp teeth
Into the throat with which you sing. Escalate your dreams.
Make them burn so fiercely that you can follow them down
any dark alleyway of history and not lose your way.
Make them burn clear as a starry drinking gourd
Over the grim fog of exhaustion, and keep walking.
Hold hands. Share water. Keep imagining.
So that we, and the children of our children’s children