Today was a painful day.
Today, a murderer entered a synagogue, a house of worship—a literal sanctuary from the worries of our world—unleashed the contents of a deadly weapon, and stole the divine gift of human life. As I write these words, I believe at least eight human beings have been murdered at Congregation Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, PA. I am shocked. I am dismayed. I am horrified.
I learned today’s awful news while riding on a bus through the Jordan Valley on the road North from the Dead Sea along the Jordan river. “Rabbi, did you hear the news,” asked my friend Pastor Chris Harris of Bright Star Church, adding, “I am so sorry.” Immediately, my other friends on the bus—twelve Pastors from Chicago along with two other church leaders—immediately offered their sympathies. This was moments after two heavily-armed Israeli soldiers walked through our bus to conduct a routine security inspection.
I was gripped not only by loss, but by powerful tensions. Here in Israel, Jews have sovereignty, but still struggle to feel secure. Home in America, our Jewish community feels our security threatened by the legitimization of neo-Nazis and White Supremacists, many of whom march brandishing the same semiautomatic weapons invented by the Israeli army. In our city of Chicago, gun violence is so rampant that my friend Chris Harris landed to guide our trip in Israel only to learn that his two sons were robbed at gunpoint, with handguns held to the temples of their heads. Compounded with today’s ultimate desecration of a sanctuary, our times have become most troubling.
There is nothing good about the ascent of hate to the mainstream of American society.
There is nothing valuable about our American infatuation with a right to bear arms.
But there are places of value in our world. The first, despite any threat, are our synagogues, those centers of teaching morality and enlightenment, of working for justice and peace.
Today I learned that another place of value was an average tour bus traveling through Israel. Its passengers were African-American Christian leaders and a Rabbi of Ashkenazi descent. All of us are threatened by gun violence: the fear of gunmen entering Jewish houses of worship, the reality of endless guns walking the streets of Chicago. All of us face hatred: we know the sting of Anti-Semitism and other bigotry, our friends the bitterness of Racism. Despite these threats and hatred, we have something else in common: the will to work for a day predicted by our prophet Hosea: all shall sit under their own vine and their own fig tree in security, and no one shall ever be afraid.
Before I left for Chicago, we at Sinai were already working to combat gun violence, already are undertaking efforts to combat racism. When I come back from Israel on Monday, we can deepen those efforts, and work with an ever-widening circle of partners. With our friends, we can bring hope, healing, love and security to our world.
While working for that perfected world, we at Chicago Sinai Congregation will still do all we can to provide for our own security. Within minutes of hearing the news in Israel from my colleagues, my phone began buzzing with emails from our Sinai security team and temple leadership. We take security seriously every day, and today are redoubling our internal efforts and have also contacted our liaisons at the Chicago Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security for immediate advice and guidance. We want everyone at Sinai both to be secure, and to feel safe.
I wish I could write you with better news as the sun sets on my Shabbat in Israel. I can only offer my conviction that together we will build a better world for our future. And so I close with the traditional greeting as we turn from Shabbat to the new week ahead: Shavua Tov, my you have a good week, may we in the coming days work together for a world devoid of hatred and fear, filled with friendship, love, and understanding.
Rabbi Seth M. Limmer
Letter from Rabbi Limmer in Light of Today’s Tragic Events
Today was a painful day.