As we reflect in this Season of Thanksgiving, we offer our gratitude for the many people and communities that have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish community after the shootings at a Pittsburgh synagogue — offering thoughtful words and gentle presence in this time of difficulty.
This solidarity is proof that we are all connected, and that attacks and expressions of hatred will not be countenanced. In this time, the solidarity and outpouring from others concerned for us is heartening. And we have a long way to go.
We cannot instantly scrub away difference and suspicion. However, we can devote ourselves to living a life of significance out in the world — prepared to defend ourselves while not letting the memories of those we mourn be in vain.
While we are not under siege, we must remain vigilant. We must continue to speak about the shifting winds of power — and what our beloved country is to become.
We are to withstand scare-tactics, contempt and conspiracy theories from our leaders and social media — and we are to continue to build strong bonds of respect with our neighbors, as we continue to cultivate pride about who each of us are.
Our dream of America endures. America is different — it is supposed to be different. After the long shadow of the Holocaust in Europe, our country is to have modeled to the world that we have moved past these ancient hatreds — that we have found a way to overcome these reptilian instincts and instead, we are to pour ourselves into a democracy that meets everyone where they are without fear.
And yet we know that in reality, this aspiration has not been met — and what we are seeing in our age — terrorism and shootings in schools, churches, nightclubs, grocery stores, synagogues, yoga studios, concert venues are hateful spasms — is a resistance to a sense of community and fear about what we may continue to accomplish together.
As Jews, we know that we are convenient, long-suffering targets, and in times of upheaval, we know that the past is not past. As Americans, we have been here before. We see a retreat into tribes — us and them.
America is still supposed to be different — we are to elect leaders who uphold the protection of the common good — and with knowing a little history — especially African-American history — we see that perhaps things weren’t as secure as we thought. We know that we haven’t moved as far as we thought — as I witnessed with Rev. Daryl Horton this summer in Montgomery, Ala., at the newly opened Legacy Museum: From Slavery to Mass Incarceration, as people, we are still grappling with who deserves life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and, too, — who is fully human.
This is not a time for retrenchment and for putting our heads in the sand. The blood of those murdered calls from the ground and implores us to live. We are for those who have not had a voice — and we sing our revolutionary songs of gathering, of prayer-making, of good deeds-doing, of world-repairing, of door-opening, to live through our pain, and every day, to consciously choose life.
As George Washington wrote to the supporters of the Hebrew Congregations of Newport, R.I., in 1790:
"It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy."
Let these words continue to ring. An attack on a synagogue is an attack against the entire Jewish people, and is a wake up call for our world. And, we shall not be moved.
We have dear friends who show up for us in our time of need, and we will continue to show up for them. We want you in our sacred spaces, and we want to support you, in yours. We are so diverse — we are so unwieldy — and yet, we are strong, and resolutely so, as we give thanks for all that we are, we are still one.
Rabbi Neil F. Blumofe is the senior rabbi of Congregation Agudas Achim in Austin. He is a past-president of Interfaith Action of Central Texas, curates and co-produces the Views and Brews – Jazz Series at the Cactus Café, and is Adjunct Faculty at the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.