Holy Everything: Face the cause of synagogue shooting honestly

November 11, 2018

Religious buildings like churches, synagogues, temples and mosques are sometimes referred to as “houses of God.” In both the Old Testament and the New Testament of the Bible, there are a multitude of occasions upon which the Creator interacts with human beings, and the physical space of the interaction is then referred to as God’s house.

On Saturday, Oct. 27, an act of violent anti-Semitism took place at a house of God. It was during a service at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that 11 people were killed and seven were injured.

In the week after the shooting, the B’nai Israel Synagogue in Rochester hosted a Gathering of Reflection and Response. All community members were invited to attend. As I looked around the synagogue during the gathering, surrounded by an immense crowd of peace-loving people from a multitude of faith traditions, I had a permeating sense of sitting inside God’s house. Prayers of healing, grief and peace were offered. Children and adults read passages from holy texts. Poems were recited. Songs were sung. God’s spirit was woven like a thread through the whole service.

At the beginning of the evening, Rabbi Michelle Werner, the leader of the community, encouraged us to be explicit in our naming of the shooting as anti-Semitic. She reminded us that what happened was more than a tragedy. It was an act of anti-Semitism directed at Jewish people. The definition of anti-Semitic is, “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.”

In naming the root of the violence for what it was, we as a society can face it more honestly and address the underlying causes more directly.

In these days since the service at B’nai Israel Synagogue, I’ve been thinking a lot about anti-Semitism. Growing up in a very small town in Iowa, I never knew a Jewish person or had much exposure to Jewish traditions. It wasn’t until I attended seminary in Chicago that I started to learn more about Jewish history and customs. It was during those years that I first began to comprehend the ways that the New Testament of the Bible and Jesus’ teachings have been used in anti-Semitic ways to oppress and discriminate against Jewish people for many hundreds of years.

Discrimination, threats and violence continue to be part of the lived experience of Jewish people in our country and around the world. For those of us who identify as Christian, it is very important that we keep alert to the ways our religious texts, history, practices and customs have been harmful to Jewish people. Not only must we pay attention to these injustices, we must repent and do what we can to chart a different path.

I give profound thanks to Rabbi Werner and the members of B’nai Israel Synagogue for creating a holy space of community and connectedness during the Gathering of Reflection and Response. It was a gift to be together and to sense God’s nearness with us.

One of the songs that we sang during the service was called, “Olam Chesded Yibaneh.” The lyrics were an encouragement to build always from a foundation of love. May they be our collective prayer and our ongoing hope:

Olam chesded yibaneh

I will build this world from love

And you must build this world from love

And if we build this world from love

Then God will build this world from love.

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