As we grieve for those murdered in Pittsburgh, we are called individually and collectively to demand elimination of the political rhetoric that flames divisiveness and hatred toward people who are perceived to be different. The time is now to turn our collective rage, fear and sadness into community action and change. Vigils and prayers must evolve into sustained expressions of a healthy and loving community. It will take more than healthier politicians to reduce the pathology of hatred in our communities and nation.
The statement below was written by Max Brumberg-Kraus, a student at United Theological Seminary, and beautifully reflects the reactions of the entire United community:
On Saturday morning, October 27, a gunman opened fire at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. Eleven congregants were murdered; two more congregants as well as four officers were injured. United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities holds the Jewish community in our hearts, as well as all the others who have not been safe in their homes of worship.
The names of those who were killed are Joyce Feinberg, 75, Richard Gottfried, 65, Rose Mallinger, 97, Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, Cecil Rosenthal, 59, David Rosenthal, 54, Bernice Simon, 84, Sylvan Simon, 86, Daniel Stein, 71, Melvin Wax, 88, and Irving Younger, 69. The list included brothers, a married couple, and a woman who had almost lived to 100 years. May their memories be a blessing.
The phrase “may their memory be a blessing” is the most common honorific for the dead in Jewish tradition. However, as a people historically marginalized, no small part by European Christians, Jews have a special honorific for those who have been killed for their faith: hashem yikom damam (“may God avenge their blood”). This is not a call to blood feud, not a call for violence through the hands of people. Rather, it is a bitter cry. It is a call from desperation. It is an invocation of divine justice.
Theology, in its most basic etymological sense, is speech of God. Hashem yikom damam is speech of a God who knows blood is life and that life is holy. Acts of violence in the name of bigotry and hate are an affront not only to the murdered, to their families, to their communities, and to all humans, but an affront to God. They require a response, a furiously life-affirming answer.
As theologians, faith leaders, and spiritual caregivers we must speak to our moment. Yes, it has become too common a refrain to point out the racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, and hate-filled vitriol coming out of the White House. Yes it is exhausting to mourn and mourn and mourn again the victims of gun violence. But we cannot ignore that the shooter singled out HIAS and other Jewish support for refugees and immigrants before entering the synagogue. This anti-Semitism is rooted in the xenophobia espoused by our government, in the lies about "fake news," in conspiracy theories leveraged at George Soros and the left.
Our president is a product of an American history where Indigenous land has been stolen with sacred landmarks routinely destroyed, where black churches have been bombed, where Sikh temples have been the sites of massacres, where many mosques and synagogues are repeatedly vandalized and in need of high security that many white mainline Protestant churches could not imagine. At the heart of these attacks is racism, white Christian supremacy, and a deep disdain for difference.
We cannot let the fatigue of horror after horror deter us from the path of justice, especially for those of us with significant privilege, for those of us who have never had to fear going to church or shopping in a supermarket or walking on the street at night. Even in the most progressive churches, we must reckon with the ways we pray and preach, how we teach the Hebrew Bible, how we engage interreligious work. We must stand in solidarity with those communities who have consistently been attacked. We must love each other more fiercely than ever hate has been. We must celebrate the diversity of voices, languages, histories and cultures until prejudice and bigotry are less than a whisper.