This is a message I delivered at the Community Multifaith Vigil for the Tree of Life shooting victims in Williamsburg Virginia on October 29, 2018. I am thankful for my dear friend Rabbi David Katz and the beautiful people of Temple Beth El for allowing us to share in their sorrow. You can read what Rabbi David shared with his people here.
It is an honor to stand with you on behalf of the Williamsburg Christian Church, in lament, solidarity and love.
It has been said by a Rabbi that a religious person is one who, “holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.”
This is what I believe the Rabbi means. When a man or woman is compelled by the conviction that leads them to believe in a Divinely-assigned worth found within every human being, they cannot help but be moved by a passionately compassionate, empathetic love. This conviction will compel he or she to share in the suffering of others and stand in defiance to despair with courage being free from fear.
It is the kind of love desperately needed in the face of the unmitigated evil called white supremacy and anti-semitism.
It is the kind of love that becomes life-giving in a society filled with fear and bent toward violence. It is a mysterious, Divinely-inspired act of other-worldly love that possesses a power to liberate us from misguided allegiances and misplaced hopes. It is this kind of love that moves us beyond self-serving interests and into self-giving investment. It is this kind of love that extends gracious hospitality to all people because all are of great worth and value just as they are. It is this kind of love that drives out fear and offers an impassioned invitation for anyone to come. It is this kind of love for which we ache, especially in moments of sorrow, because it is most closely intertwined with the love of the Divine.
A community’s commitment to this kind of love becomes a stubborn act of refusal to give in or give up.
In a society dominated by fear, indifference and violence, this kind of love is a heroic act of defiance.
In a society seduced by power, position and privilege, this kind of love is a heroic act of resistance.
In a society determined to push aside the weak, marginalize the vulnerable, and exclude the stranger, this kind of love is a heroic act of protest.
Tonight, love compels us to make this confession.
We will not let fear move us to concession.
We can never rest.
Love is our protest.
We will defend the displaced,
With a bold embrace.
We will welcome the unwanted,
With a grit undaunted.
We will plead for those who suffer,
under the weight of hatred from another.
We can never rest.
Love is our protest.
Though the anger rages on,
And the arrogant seem strong,
Though denial is the school,
And many play the fool.
We will never rest.
Love will be our heroic act of protest.
We remember the victims of Tree of Life Synagogue:
Joyce Feinberg, 75
Rich Gotfried, 65
Rose Malinger, 97
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Cecil Rosenthal, 59
David Rosenthal, 54 (disabled brothers)
Bernice Simon, 84
Sylvan Simon, 86 (a married couple)
Daniel Stein, 71
Melvin Wax, 88
Irving Youngner, 69
As a nation where this kind of white supremacist hatred endures, we also remember Maurice Stallard, 69, Vickie Lee Jones, 67, from Jeffersontown, Kentucky. Just two days prior to the Synagogue shooting, they were gunned down in a Kroger grocery store by a white male simply because they were black. According to the police the white terrorist attempted to enter First Baptist, a predominately African American Church, shortly before the shooting, but to no avail. Yet, his hatred spurred him on.
Lord, comfort the families of all these victims. Forgive us for the sins of white supremacy and anti-Semitism, and heal our nation. In your mercy and because of your stedfast love, bring justice for the oppressed and restore your Shalom to the world you love.