Memorial held to honor victims of mass shootings

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 5:15pm

In an outpouring of solidarity with members of Congregation Sons and Daughters of Ruth, some 75 islanders gathered on the eve of Nov. 9, for a Sabbath memorial service honoring the victims of the recent Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue massacre.

Representing a range of faith groups and secular members of the community, island residents came together at the  Harbor Church. Speakers and readers included Rev. Peter Preiser, minister of the Harbor Church, Father Joseph Protano of St. Andrew Church, Rev. Daniel Barker of St. Ann’s By-the-Sea and Cantor Elliot Taubman of Sons and Daughters of Ruth.

As a member of the Congregation, I — like fellow members — found the spontaneous expression of affection and grief by our neighbors and friends deeply touching and gratifying.

Indeed, as we come upon the holiday season, we feel especially grateful to live in a community in which neighbors are more like extended family and where we are accepted for who we are as individuals than for our backgrounds or heritage.

Unfortunately, it often takes moments of tragedy to draw us together. We have seen the targeting of Jews at worship reflecting an all too familiar, historic contempt for them and arising today from an atmosphere of unbridled hatred, and bigotry abroad in our land.

Of course, what we’re witnessing has not just been directed at Jews. Rather we find ourselves in a climate of sanctioned hatreds that repeatedly vilify the “other”—Jews, immigrants, peoples of color and of diverse ethnic and gender backgrounds and orientation.

What is astonishing is that it is happening out loud here in this country we love so well — here where we would never have expected our leaders to foment these kinds of hatreds and acts of violence.

History is the ultimate witness of how these forces have played out in the past. The very night of our memorial service, Nov. 9, was the anniversary of Kristalnacht, a horrific and premeditated act of hatred directed by the German state against its Jews.

Throughout the night of Nov. 9, 1938, because their leaders sanctioned it, ordinary Germans were led to turn upon their neighbors. They were given license and in a fury of hatred, destroyed Jewish homes, synagogues, businesses and lives. These barbaric acts accelerated the roundup later of surviving Jews into concentration camps.

Even as we remember, it seems that we have been unwilling or unable to learn from history. Are we simply condemned to repeat it?

It seems to me so much depends upon our vigilance.

Do we allow fear-mongering, demagoguery, scapegoating to once again direct us into hatred of our neighbors? Or do we attempt to confront these, to stop them wherever they rear their ugly heads?

Our answers, one would think, should be no-brainers. However, in an age in which vitriolic rhetoric stirs up hatred on a daily basis, it seems more important than ever for us to reach out to each other to renew our ties of friendship, to revive the tenets of the democracy that bind us and to affirm our common humanity.

The Pittsburgh Synagogue was called Aitz Chaim, The Tree of Life, which initially seemed to me filled with tragic irony. However, in looking into the symbolism, which finds expression in many cultures, we find common threads:

It seems what all of us yearn for in human affairs and relationships are harmony, balance, understanding and peace.

These dreams seem to find echo in the words of an ancient prayer and song, “Aitz Chaim Hi/ The Tree of Life” It reads as follows:

A tree of life to those who hold fast to it,

And whoever holds on to it is happy.

Its ways are ways of pleasantness,

And all its paths are peace.