The Rev. John Buttrick: Standing with our Jewish neighbors

  • A demonstrator waits for the start of a protest in the aftermath of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Tuesday, Oct. 30, in Pittsburgh. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 11/8/2018 12:09:59 AM

As the news accounts of the recent shootings and deaths at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., disappear from TV “breaking news” and the front pages of newspapers it is important for Americans to continue to accompany the Jewish community and their families through their experience of fear, anger and grief. The hate-killing of 11 people and the shooting injuries of six others are horrendous for the Jewish community but also a burden for all Americans.

Commitments to accompaniment began in many churches and mosques the weekend of the murders by holding the Jewish community in prayer during their worship services. For example, on Sunday at South Congregational, United Church of Christ in Concord, the planned beginning for the worship service was revised after the news of the massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue. The clergy called the congregation to worship with an acknowledgment of the pain and injustice being experienced by members of Tree of Life Synagogue and the wider Jewish community. They offered prayers for healing, justice and shalom (peace), followed by a piano rendition of “Hinei Mah Tov”: “How good and pleasant it is for kindred to dwell in peace together.”

This most recent deadly attack on Jewish neighbors compels a renewed motivation to repudiate white nationalism, racism and hatred directed at Jewish people and other vulnerable minorities in our country. Accompanying victims of hate instills empathy for their plight. It increases sensitivity to subtle expressions of racism, hegemony and bigotry, particularly by those of us who have so far escaped the plague of group identity denigration.

Blaming the victim is one of these subtle expressions that has emerged after the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue. It has surfaced with the questions asked by the media about what more could have been done by synagogue leadership to prevent the deadly shooting. These questions may have been prompted by President Donald Trump’s statement that the shooting may not have happened if the synagogue had posted armed guards. It is bias and discriminatory to place on the Jewish community the responsibility for the deaths and injuries caused by an anti-Jewish shooter. The responsibility rests among us in the wider community.

There is also some subtle bias for Israel in the name of anti-Semitism. As a result of the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker has announced he’s going to support the long-stalled Israel Anti-Boycott Act. In the name of anti-Semitism, Booker is choosing to support criminalizing nonviolent resistance by United States citizens to illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian Territory and the military violence against Palestinians. However, accompaniment does not mean supporting illegal or unjust activity. Accompanying our Jewish neighbors exposes us to some who deplore unjust suffering of Palestinians and their children as a result of illegal actions of the Israeli military. Both J-Street and Jewish Voice for Peace recognize the Israel Anti-Boycott Act as a violation of free speech. JVP supports nonviolent boycott action.

Accompaniment leads to an imperative to condemn violence against any religious or cultural group of people. We have a mandate to facilitate an inclusive culture of acceptance, love and care for all human beings. However, advocates for a culture of inclusivity are being ridiculed by speeches and images from some of our country’s leaders that give permission for acts of violence. For example, when Trump called himself “a nationalist” at a rally in Houston, the alt-right knew exactly what he meant. Nationalism is inherently connected to white nationalism and racial discrimination. When President Trump alludes to hordes of dangerous people marching toward our southern border he sets a tone of suspicion and violence that endangers minorities, immigrants and refugees. The tone was reinforced when Trump “pardoned – and fulsomely praised – Joe Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff sanctioned for racially profiling Latinos and for keeping immigrants in brutal prison conditions” (David Brooks, New York Times). The tone of these speeches and actions create the environment for bigots’ actions.

Now that all the promises have been made and the midterm elections are over it is time to expect from our leaders a tone of “commitment to compassionate democratic policies that recognize the dignity of all of us” (Bend the Arc, a Jewish group in Pittsburgh; Times of Israel, Oct. 28).

That dignity includes a tone of care, love and justice by continuing to accompany victims of hate and discrimination. For example, this past week the Rincon United Church of Christ in Tucson, Ariz., welcomed 33 refugees into its church shelter family, mostly women and children. In the Concord area there is a monthly discussion group of Jews, Christians and Muslims. Robin Nafshi, rabbi of Temple Beth Jacob in Concord, wrote in the Monitor last week, “Let us respond to fear by standing up and joining with our neighbors and fellow Granite Staters, teaching that we embrace our differences and our similarities, and invite all people to join us.”

Let us commit ourselves to accompany the Jewish community and all vulnerable groups in our society on their night walk through the ravages of hate and discrimination motivated by the words of Rev. William Sloane Coffin: “There never was a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.”

(The Rev. John Buttrick, United Church of Christ, lives in Concord.)

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