October 30, 2018
Reform Congregation Oheb Sholom/Kesher Zion Synagogue
October 30, 2018, 7:00 PM
We come together most often in large gatherings like tonight’s for happy events, like the Bat Mitzvah celebrated here last Saturday for Dani Radosh, daughter of my faculty colleague, Jodi, and her husband, Lee. We know such milestones belong not just to an individual or even just a family. They are quite properly communal celebrations. For members of a synagogue or mosque or church, our place of worship is a sacred space where we collectively affirm our spirituality--those beliefs, values, practices which feed our soul, which center us, and which link our best selves to others.
So it is natural we gather in grief and anger tonight in this sacred space—certainly members of this synagogue and others in our area’s Jewish community—and also many others who come to offer our sympathy, support, and prayers and to stand in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters here in Reading, in Pittsburgh, and beyond. Likely, there are some among us who have been touched personally by this tragedy: the family of one of Alvernia’s Jewish students, until moving away earlier this month, were members of the Tree of Life Congregation. So our reading of the Kaddish Prayer at our Sunday night campus Mass had special poignancy, just as our interfaith prayer vigil at Thursday’s annual advocacy event, “To Be A Refugee,” will have special significance given the generous outreach of the Tree of Life synagogue to the refugee population.
The evil and unbridled hatred that is anti-Semitism, so vividly on display in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood last Saturday, has a long history in our world. And sadly, as is well documented, anti-Semitic incidents have been far more prevalent the last two years in our own country. Most disturbingly, anti-Semitism, hostility toward refugees, and white supremacist attitudes are now treated, in some circles, as acceptable points of view to be expressed openly. Events like last weekend’s murders should cause us to turn our shock and outrage to advocacy: political, civic, and religious leaders of all backgrounds need to hear that we expect them to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry and hatred as affronts to the promise of America and the moral core of a just society.
Interfaith relations were initially simply personal for me. They were a somewhat natural outgrowth of growing up in a neighborhood of mixed religious backgrounds in which two of my three childhood friends were Jewish. Helen’s and my best friends for over 40 years are also Jewish. We were witnesses at each other’s long-ago weddings and have shared Seders and Easter dinners, baptisms and bat mitzvahs.
But I have come to recognize that genuine interfaith efforts, while personally enriching, are (or should be) an urgent societal imperative. Open-minded, respectful dialogue and the search for shared values are far more essential for a healthy democracy than emphasis on our differences. At a time when divisive voices too often dominate, we must recommit ourselves to the journey of exploration and mutual understanding embodied by our own interfaith programs such as Common Heart and creative initiatives such as the recent Interfaith Mission and Pilgrimage organized by the Jewish Federation. The horrors of Pittsburgh should make us even more determined to battle hatred and to build a more inclusive and just society.
Let us seek to model the attitudes expressed in the famous Peace Prayer of St. Francis, especially the call: “where there is hatred, let me sow love.” And let me close with his timeless blessing: Peace and All Good. Tom Flynn