Must I Ask? In Response to the Pittsburgh Shootings

Tree of Life Synagogue – Pittsburgh

October 27, 2018

Dear friends,

Please consider speaking to your congregants about the murder of 11 Jews today while worshiping on the Sabbath.

Please consider pointing out that in 2017 antisemitic incidents have increased 57% — the largest increase in any given year, and please note that the increase in antisemitism we have been seeing is, in considerable part, related to the 2015 presidential campaigns and the hateful antisemitic rhetoric that year which was then and continues to be made permissible in this country by dog whistles, by acquiescence, and by deployment of false equivalencies (“good people on both sides…”).

In grief,

Barbara

Many of my Christian colleagues wrote back last Saturday night, with great kindness and compassion.  Some, I know, did speak from their pulpits to the horror of the Sabbath Jews had endured. Some added wisdom that could deal with the murder of two black people in Louisville by a man who then announced that “white people don’t kill white people.”

The next day, I posted on Facebook.

Last night I wrote to my every Christian colleague to ask them to please speak to the horror of antisemitism from their pulpits this morning. I appreciated every loving response. But as a teacher of the history of antisemitism, I know: We are still asking. We will still be asking. I do not think we will know what it is to live in a world in which this request is no longer necessary. 

I spent the day grieving.  I have gone from one church to another, given one presentation after the other, led adult study and bible study, spoken with, prayed with, tried – again and again – to embody the deep ecumenism that Reb Zalman espoused.

I am asked to speak about Torah – and that’s often just exactly what I do.  I am asked to share Jewish ritual and tradition and prayer practice, and I do.  I have learned with Christians, prayed with Christians, shared my heart with Christians of all kinds.

But in all these years, no congregation has initiated a conversation about antisemitism, though most church communities I visit know that I teach that subject.

I have often asked myself: When will white people examine their history, collusion and complicity in enslaving, controlling, subjugating, imprisoning and even murdering black people?  This past week I asked myself a like question: When will my most compassionate and dear Christian friends understand that loving statements about the evil of antisemitism will not suffice – not when the overwhelming majority of Christians neither know nor understand how their traditions and texts contributed to its creation?

If I am honest, I must admit this: even if those many church communities were to ask me to teach their congregants about the history of antisemitism some part of me would ask: “Why not do this yourselves? Must a Jew explain Jewish pain – yet again?” It’s not as if there are not texts to study (David Nirenberg’s Anti-Judaism, for example).  I’ll share the curricula I’ve used.

Three years ago, during the 2015 campaign, when right wing extremism and members of the current administration stepped out in public to begin their close, intimate dance, I told my husband and son: Jews will die in America.

It has been three years of dread, living an awful expectation.  And now, just as black leaders did after Dylann Roof murdered nine black congregants of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in the summer of 2015, so am I doing.  Just as they explained and explained to white folk – yes, racism is still alive — so I find myself saying, “see?  Yes, antisemitism is still alive.”

We will not rid this world of either one until the worlds which spawned them take up the work of eradicating them.

May we live to see such a time.

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