Ending Anti-Semitism

Last Saturday in Pittsburgh was the worst massacre of Jewish people in United States history. That morning at Mass St. Luke (Lk 13:1) told about how Pontius Pilate had mingled the blood of Galilean believers with their sacrifices (thus belying the notion that Pilate wasn’t that bad a guy. He was an oppressor of the Jewish people and seemed to relish mocking the Jews on Good Friday, when he presented Jesus to them, asking, “Shall I crucify your King?” {Jn 19:15}). At the same time Luke’s Gospel was being proclaimed, these innocent people were being killed as they tried to worship God.

Rabbi Moishe Mayir Vogel, the executive director at the Aleph Institute, a Jewish Humanitarian organization in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, spoke to WBUR radio on its “Here and Now” program Monday and what he had to say was an amazing example of how someone of faith can react to great injustice.

The rabbi described how his 10-year-old daughter asked him Saturday night, “Why are the Jewish people being attacked again? Why are the Jewish people being attacked?”

The dad and rabbi told his daughter (Saturday) and the radio interviewer (Monday), “And the answer is that we’ve got to bring more light, that we can’t push down, we’ve got to stand stronger.”

While the rabbi also discussed the rise of Anti-Semitism, he did not give a “woe is me” attitude to his daughter or to the general public. Although he strongly called for punishment of the murderer and for working to end Anti-Semitism, he also reminded everyone that God wants us all to be that light for the world, instead of reacting to our sufferings by embracing darkness.

“The Talmud teaches us that a small light dispels much darkness, and in times like this, we have to remember that the more light we bring, the more darkness we’re going to dispel, and the better the world is around us.” What an example for us all!

Discussing the hatred that the Jewish people have had to endure, through no fault of their own, for millennia, Rabbi Vogel said, “We’ve been through our Hamans [editor’s note: see the Old Testament book of Esther — he plotted to kill off the Jews in his territory] in our day, we’ve been through our Hitlers of the day — they’re not going to deter us, we’re going to bounce back and we’re going to be stronger.”

On Sunday Bishop Joseph Bambera, the chairman of the Committee for Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed his sadness about the attack. “Yesterday morning, death and violence entered a house of worship. The attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, is a cowardly act and to be condemned by all Americans. Those killed and injured represent the best of who we are: people of faith gathered to pray and celebrate the birth of a child and officers responding to the ensuring violence with no concern for their own safety. Anti-Semitism is to be condemned and has to be confronted by our nation. The Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stands with our Jewish brothers and sisters during this time of great distress. May God grant peace to the dead, healing to the injured, and comfort to the families of those hurt and killed and to all the Jewish community.”

The month of November is the month in which we specifically remember the souls of the deceased. May we pray for the deceased in this terrible attack and for all of the Jewish people who have been killed over the centuries, just for being Jewish. May we also pray for healing, physical and Spiritual, for the survivors, the people in Pittsburgh and for our Jewish sisters and brothers around the country and around the world. They need to see in concrete ways our love and support. As Rabbi Vogel said, simple acts of kindness can bring light and healing. 

We also need to make an examination of conscience, to see if in our individual or communal actions there is some tinge (or worse) of Anti-Semitism, so that we can ask God to help root it out of our hearts and actions. 

On Saturday itself, a few hours after the attack, the president of the USCCB, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, wrote, “To our brothers and sisters of the Jewish community, we stand with you. We condemn all acts of violence and hate and yet again, call on our nation and public officials to confront the plague of gun violence. Violence as a response to political, racial, or religious differences must be confronted with all possible effort. God asks nothing less of us. He begs us back to our common humanity as His sons and daughters.”

The cardinal’s statement can be seen as alluding to other mass shootings in our country, done for a variety of reasons (but never really with real “reason” involved). He also reminded all of us, the vast majority of whom would never do such a thing, to also think and pray about how we can be part of God’s solution to this problem and not continue to contribute to the sourness of our society.

In the face of such evil, Rabbi Vogel offered hope for our country. “I think this attack — I hope and I would like to believe — that this is a one-out attack. This is a deranged individual, but it doesn’t reflect the vigil that we had last night, the community had last night. [It] was attended by so many, [showing] the support there is in the community. I’m not packing up. We’re not leaving. We’re not going anywhere at this point. I think the country in the whole is a kind country. We live in a very kind and welcoming country, and other individuals out there are hateful. Yes, throughout history, there’s always been the Hitlers, who have attacked society, attacked Jewish people. To go and say the entire community, like Germany, [is] going to rise against us and we’re seeing such widespread anti-Semitism — I don’t think we’re at that point.”

May our prayer and our love help us to make this a more welcoming society.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts