Good Evening. I am Rabbi Michael Berk, a rabbi here at Beth Israel, and it is with heavy heart that I welcome you to this evening’s vigil.
We gather tonight in sadness to comfort and strengthen each other. We are here to honor the lives taken in Pittsburg and to send our love and prayers to the families of the dead and wounded. Our hands go out to the survivors and the whole community traumatized by this vicious act of hatred.
It is moments like this that we feel most deeply that we are Am Echad — One People. The attack in Pittsburg was an attack on all of us. The Pittsburg Jewish community begins sitting shiva tomorrow; and we will be with them in spirit.
We also gather in gratitude to the first responders who courageously rushed in to confront the synagogue shooter; and the medical personnel who tended the wounded.
I want to say a word of thanks to members of the press and media who are with us. The attack on the Jews at prayer occurred at a time of alarmingly increasing anti-Semitism and a rising climate of hatred in general — against Muslims, Sikhs, gays, lesbians, trans, immigrants, refugees … the list goes on. These days, the members of the press are the object of scorn and hatred by some. Tonight, I say, the press and media are our guardians, honorably working to give us information and facts to help us understand what’s going on. So I thank all the journalists for the service you provide our nation. You are a friend of the people.
We all know that something is wrong in America today. The hate is getting out of control. We all must do what we can to combat it. How? By being the type of people our religious faiths tell us to be. Jews have learned it this way: “This is what the Holy One has said: My children, what do I want from you? I want no more than that you love one another and honor one another.”
Love and honor are what we owe everyone. Now is the time for decency to speak out loud and clear; for intolerance and narrowness of vision to be challenged. It is time for an out-pouring of conscience from all of us to condemn hatred and hateful language, and to call us and our political leaders back to our better selves.
For 2,000 years Jews have had to move on past moments of tragedy like what we’ve been through. How have we managed? Jews have always known that somehow they had to move on. They had to get up from our sorrow and pain and continue with life. And we did! This resilience is one of the greatest miracles in human history. We got up after each blow, brushed ourselves off, put one foot in front of the other, and moved on. We taught the world hope by staying alive and thriving.
An example: During the first Intifada, the Dolphinarium, a nightclub in Tel Aviv popular with teenagers, was blown up by a suicide bomber who murdered 21 teens. The very next day the kids put a sign up that told the world how they intended to respond to that act of hatred and violence: “Lo nafsik lirkod” — We will not stop dancing.
As we look to the future, may we have the strength of those teens.
Below are links of media coverage of the community vigil and the response of the tragedy in Pittsburgh: