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Reflections on the Tragedy in Poway

Monday, 29 April, 2019 - 3:08 pm

Reflections Tragedy in Poway AP.jpgThis past Saturday, on the last day of Passover as we prepared to recite the Yizkor Memorial Prayer at the Chabad Center of Sudbury, I read and spoke about the meaning of the words of Isaiah which are traditionally read on that day. In that reading, Isaiah talks of our hopes and aspirations for the future of the world where all of mankind will work with together for a common greater good that has been envisioned for this world by G-d, when of course there will be no more fighting and bigotry.

Meanwhile thousands of miles away in California, my colleague Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was preparing to read the same verses with the same message at the Chabad Center of Poway. But the deadly gunfire that was directed at him and his congregants in his synagogue lobby prevented him from doing so.

In the hail of bullets that followed, Rabbi Goldstein had two of his fingers blown off and watched one of his congregants, Lori Gilbert-Kaye get murdered in front of his eyes and saw several others wounded, including a young nine year old child. As his hands bled profusely his only thoughts were on saving a group of children who were in the lobby including his own young granddaughter. Thank G-d, the gunman’s weapon jammed and two brave individuals tried to tackle the individual and opened fire on the gunman who then fled the scene.

The tragic shooting up of a synagogue was the second such attack on American soil in the last six months and comes just a week after hundreds of worshippers were killed in Sri Lankan Churches and just a short period after dozens were killed in Mosques in New Zealand. In all of these attacks excessive hate was the culprit and passion of the terrorists and murderers.

Anti-Semitism & Bigotry

I have lived in the USA for the last twenty years, and in this country I have found a people who appreciate diversity and respect different faiths, like few other places where I have visited or lived. The overwhelming majority of people abhor such actions and hate and strive for respect, inclusion and tolerance. Yet over the last few years the level of poisonous hate which has sometimes entered the public discourse has risen to an uncomfortable level. Sometimes this hate is cloaked in anti-Israel diatribes and sometimes it is the age old anti-Semitism and sometimes it is directed at others in a host of other forms of bigotry.

When attacks like these happen, I grieve and am shaken to the core on the one hand, yet at the same time, I am touched by the outpouring of support from people from across the spectrum, from the leaders of the local Mosques and Churches to local officials and just your regular person on the street. It is a refreshing reminder that the overwhelming majority of people who live in our society are good people and want to see a world of unity and respect for one another.
We live in America a country of freedoms, security and peace. Yet in the last few months and once again over the last few days, I have had multiple people tell me that they are scared to come to synagogue or to send their children to religious school. My children’s Jewish Day School had to hire a security guard recently and this morning as I dropped off my children at school there were police guarding the entrances.

My children are painfully aware of these attacks and understand that there are a few crazy people out there who hate them because of who they are and not for any other reason. Yet my children like myself, and so many others, wear the Kippahs with pride and attend synagogue joyfully, as we know that a few haters will never overcome us and that the overwhelming majority of people in this country are kind and good people.

Moving Forward

Moving forward from here, Jewish institutions will not take their security lightly and will work to continue to be open community spaces which are at the same time safe and secure. Yet as a society, we need to seek work together more than ever before, to root out hate and bigotry and perhaps even more so, to instill within every child a love for their fellow human being, and a sense of purpose, mission and destiny in the beautiful work of art that we collectively form together as the human race.

The bullets may have stopped Rabbi Goldstein reading Isiah’s prophecy for a world of no hate and violence this past Saturday. But let us persevere and work together to continue to focus on developing and integrating those words in to the society that we live in, so that love and appreciation of our fellow is what endures and together we all create a world and society that fulfills its Divine potential.

Along with the security responses and the perspectives that we must keep in mind as mentioned above, let us respond to this tragic attack by adding more Mitzvot and good deeds so that darkness and hate is pushed away by light and goodness.
This Sabbath we will be holding special solidarity services at the Chabad Center of Sudbury on Friday evening at 6:45pm and Saturday Morning from 10am – 12:15pm.

Together we will encourage each other and send a message to the world along with thousands of congregations throughout the country that hate will never win and we and what we represent will persevere.

Am Yisroel Chai!


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