Tonight, we mourn with the members of Tree of Life Synagogue, Congregation Dor Hadash, New Light Congregation and the entire Jewish community of Pittsburgh. We are devastated and outraged at the horrific terrorist murder in this sacred space.
Oh that my head were water and my eye a fountain of tears; so that I could cry all of my days and my nights. . . In the bitterness of my anguish and sorrow, I choose to shout. I recall this day the killing in the holy communities. . . For the House of Israel and for the people of God who are fallen by the sword. (Kalonymous Ben Yehudah, Trans. Rabbinical Assembly, Siddur Tisha B’Av)
The rabbis and cantors of T’ruah hold in our hearts our colleagues Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers and Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, who now face the heartbreaking task of supporting their communities through the days of mourning ahead.
Today’s murders are a hate crime, a violent act of anti-Semitism by a white nationalist with too easy access to military-grade automatic weapons. We must not ask ourselves, “How did this happen here?” Our history, both as Americans increasingly numb to mass shootings and as Jewish survivors of religiously motivated violence and killings, provides us with the answers. Only by passing comprehensive gun reform legislation and combating white nationalism can we truly become a nation about which we can say, “May there be peace within your walls, security within your gates.” (Psalms 122:7)
We have seen once again that violent speech, and tacit endorsement of such speech especially from the highest levels of power, leads tragically to violent action. As Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and Life are in the hand of the tongue.”
We also express our solidarity with our colleagues at HIAS, who were targeted with online hate by the shooter for their ongoing dedication to keeping America’s doors open to those fleeing violence and oppression. This commitment stands at the heart of what it means to be Jewish. In this morning’s Torah reading, we read both of the wickedness of the city of Sodom — condemned, per the Talmud, because of their cruelty toward immigrants and travelers; and of Abraham, who teaches us that welcoming strangers is even greater than welcoming the divine presence.
The terrorist who carried out today’s horrific act hoped to scare us from being public as Jews, and from acting on our Jewish commitments to stand with immigrants and refugees. Like generations of Jews before us, we refuse to give in to terror.