KTI Interfaith Vigil for Pittsburgh Remarks
Good evening. My name is Rabbi Ben Goldberg, and it is my pleasure to serve as spiritual leader here at Congregation KTI.
We are gathered here this evening not because we want to, but because we must. Our hearts are broken as the peace of Shabbat was desecrated last Saturday, as our fellow Jews in Pittsburgh were victims of an antisemitic act of terror. Gathered in prayer and celebration just as we do in this building every week, they were murdered in what was supposed to be a sanctuary, a home, a refuge. They were allegedly targeted for their solidarity with some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and for what Jews have always done: having the audacity to be different and the tenacity to hold fast to our traditions.
For thousands of years, our enemies have turned Jews into a symbol for everything wrong with the world. Jews have long been the subject of conspiratorial thinking that accuses us of corrupting the societies in which we make our home. It appears that the shooter in Pittsburgh was just the latest evil man in this long history of pathological hatred of Jews and what we represent. And, as has often been the case, this hatred is part of a toxic brew of other forms of hatred that cannot stomach the diversity of our country and our human family. We note that this massacre occurred shortly after, and emerged from the same sources as, the racially motivated murder of two African-Americans in a Kentucky grocery store.
On Yom Kippur, I spoke about loving our neighbor as ourselves, and how the iconic television host Mr. Rogers personified this idea. Well, this attack took place in Mr. Rogers’ literal neighborhood: Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. As I watched events unfold, I tried to follow Mr. Rogers’ advice to look for the helpers: the brave police and other first responders who risked their lives to respond to the incident. But it is not enough just to look for the helpers; that is advice for small children. We also have to be the helpers. So I’ve also seen the many people of goodwill around the country and in my life who reached out with words and acts of comfort and solidarity. And of course, all of you, the many of our non-Jewish neighbors who have joined us here tonight. Thank you for being part of our neighborhood. Thank you for helping us feel less alone. Thank you for showing up in a synagogue as an act of solidarity and defiance.
Like many of you, I have felt a mixture of emotions as I processed Saturday’s tragic events. I have felt sadness for the victims, for the Jewish families who will be mourning and sitting shiva in the coming days. I have felt gratitude and admiration for the police and other first responders who put themselves in harm's way to protect us. I have felt anger at the individual who met our peaceful prayers with violence and hatred, and at the forces in our country that enabled, emboldened and armed him. And I have felt fear when facing the prospect that something like this could one day happen to me, to us.
As the days have passed, it is the fear that has emerged most strongly. Days like Saturday remind us of the uncomfortable truths that usually we can keep out of our minds: that something terrible could happen at any moment, that there are people in our country and in our world who want us dead just because we are Jews, that our safety is by no means a guarantee.
But then, I remind myself of some other truths: Living when others want you dead is an act of resistance. Faith in the face of fear is an act of bravery. Acting according to our highest values is an act of responsibility. The individual who fired those bullets wanted to scare us into giving up on our identity and our values. Our response must be to double down on them.
Yes, this is difficult. Fear is natural. But as the Hasidic Rebbe Nahman of Bratzlav taught, "The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to be afraid." With faith in the Guardian of Israel, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, we must press on in our sacred work. Even as we acknowledge our fear and anger, and give ourselves permission to feel it, we will move forward together with faith, hope, and love.