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Reflection on Antisemetic Attack on Pittsburgh synagogue

by Dr. Eugene Fisher, Distinguished Professor of Theology,

Saint Leo University

Leaders of Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and other world religions represented in our country have rightfully been quick to condemn the violent attack on the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue, in which eleven people were murdered, simply because they were Jews and practiced the faith of Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Jesus, Joseph and Mary. This was in effect if not in intent an attack upon all people of faith.

Tree of Life Synagogue is a place where Jews of all religious persuasions, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Orthodox, could come to pray together in the name of the One God of Israel, Whom we Jews and Christians both call “Our Father/Avinu.” It also sponsored a local branch of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. The word for “life,” in Hebrew, is haim, a word made famous in the song from the musical Fiddler on the Roof. The perpetrator of the attack was against immigrants and refugees coming into this county, people with whom Jews closely identify, given the fact that they were expelled from virtually every country of Western Europe, with the exception of Italy (where papal law, dating back to St. Augustine, assured them of a place to live, albeit often in ghettos, separated from the Catholic majority population).

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, challenges all of us to work together to confront and defeat the forces of hate and violence in our society. Deeds, not just words: “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 Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs stated:

“Anti-Semitism is to be condemned and has to be confronted by our nation. (We) stand 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.”

Pope Francis issued the following: “Dear brothers and sisters, I express my closeness to the city of Pittsburgh, in the United States of America, and in particular to the Jewish community, which was struck yesterday by a terrible attack in the synagogue. May the Most High welcome the dead into his peace, comfort their families and support the wounded. In reality, we are all wounded by this inhuman act of violence. May the Lord help us to extinguish the outbreaks of hatred that develop in our societies, strengthening the sense of humanity, respect for life, moral and civil values, and the holy fear of God, who is Love and Father of all.”

Asked for a summary of the Law/Covenant between God and the Jewish People, representing all humanity, the Jew, Jesus, gave a response consonant with rabbinic Judaism, to love God fully (Deuteronomy 5:6), a love made real by loving one's neighbor as oneself (Leviticus 19:18), which includes, Leviticus 19 makes clear, loving the “strangers” (immigrants and minorities) who live in the midst of our communities. Antisemitism and other forms of racial/religious disdain and hatred clearly violates this central teaching of Jesus. Note that the religion of Jesus was Judaism. There was no Christianity, of course, until after the death and resurrection of Jesus. This great commandment is central to Christianity, Islam and other world religions, as well as Judaism. Today in our fractured society people of all faiths, and people who do not adhere to any particular faith, must come together in our common humanity to develop programs that can be instituted in our schools and communities to teach the need for all of us to respect and love one another as equal to ourselves.

Here is a Muslim's statement in a prayer service for the deceased as reported by Peter Smith of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette from a prayer vigil on October 27 at a Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh:

“Wasi Mohamed of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh: 'Obviously we're all heartbroken, but how many of you are angry?' Hands were raised all over. And how could we not be? People were stolen from us. Mohamed reads the Quranic verse: respond to an evil deed with a better deed. That's what the Jewish Community has done all along, Mohamed says: 'I cannot walk ten feet in this city without seeing something great the Jewish community has done.'” Mohamed cites Jewish support for resettlement of refugees including Muslims and others, plus other charities to help those in need. Muslims, he notes, have already raised $15,000 toward helping the Pittsburgh Jewish community. Mohamed cites Jewish support for resettlement of refugees including Muslims, others, plus other charities. Muslims today, he reports, “have already raised $15k toward helping the Pittsburgh Jewish community.”

This is a moment of clear and present danger for all religious communities in America. Attacks on synagogues and mosques and churches are on the rise. Religious communities must come together to educate our larger American communities. Jews, Christians, Muslims, people of all religions, or none, must now band together to create organizations to educate our youth about the self-defeating nature of bigotry, racial, social and religious. Together we can make a difference. If not now, when? If not us, who?

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