The horrific crime of a gunman breaking into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday and murdering 11 people is, according to the Anti-Defamation League, believed to be the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in United States history.
It was also a violent attack on core American values, like the right to worship freely, and the idea of America as a beacon and a haven for those fleeing persecution and violence around the world.
The attacker targeted his victims — and it was no accident he showed up just as Shabbat services had begun. But the response should come from all of us. Hatred against any one group in America is hatred against the entire project of America. That’s why Thrive Global is proud to encourage everybody to participate in #ShowUpForShabbat. Launched by the American Jewish Committee, the idea is to encourage not just Jewish communities across the country but “communal allies” and “all people of conscience” to fill synagogues on this coming Shabbat on Friday and Saturday, November 2nd and 3rd. “What could be a more fitting response to the terror in Pittsburgh?” asked AJC CEO David Harris. “We are not afraid. We are not going to think twice about affirming our identity and faith. We are not alone.” Or, as Avi Mayer, assistant executive director of the AJC put it, “When they go low, we go to shul.”
And the best way to show them they’re not alone is to go with them.
The idea of Shabbat has a special place at Thrive Global. In September we launched a special section called “Shabbat: A Day of Rest” meant to explore how deliberately building in time to disengage from the world can add meaning and purpose to our lives. “Shabbat is the greatest gift of the ancient Jewish people to human civilization,” wrote Rabbi Jay Moses, the section’s Editor-at-Large and the Vice President of the interdenominational Wexner Foundation. “In the place of striving and commerce, creativity and productivity, we are instructed simply to be: to rest, rejoice, be with family and friends, eat and drink for pleasure, talk about what really matters, sing, pray, and give thanks for our blessings.”
Which, of course, is exactly what the 11 victims at Tree of Life were doing — celebrating their connection to each other, to their families, to their community and to God. As Franklin Foer movingly wrote this week in the Atlantic, this putting away of the worldly and of concern for ourselves necessarily involves letting down our defenses. “The Sabbath is a rupture in the architecture of time, a day set apart,” he wrote. “For those who practice the ritual, it is a moment of disconnection from the week — a temporal void that is supposed to be kept clear of work, technology, and concern for material things. The Sabbath has evolved, by design, to be a moment of vulnerability, where secular armor is placed in the spiritual locker, permitting connection with God.”
And for that courageous humility and service to others (and if you read this account of their lives in the New York Times, you’ll see that’s truly what defined their lives), they were murdered. And that’s a rupture in the fabric of our entire country.
According to an analysis by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, hate crimes in our ten biggest cities rose over 12 percent in 2017. And an ADL report from February found that in 2017, the number of anti-Semitic incidents went up almost 60 percent from the previous year — the largest annual rise since the organizations began keeping records in the 1970s.
The etymology of “Shabbat” is associated with two other commands, to remember (zachor) and to observe (shamor). And that’s what we should do this weekend, and beyond: remember and observe.
As Rabbi Moses noted, Shabbat is an idea meant for everyone. “Interestingly, the Hebrew Bible, which is often very concerned with the unique and distinct covenantal responsibilities of the Israelite tribe, explicitly includes the broader community in its mandate to celebrate Shabbat,” he writes. “Employees, guest sojourners, even cattle are to be granted a day of rest along with the Jewish household.”
Not long before the shooting, the gunman had made threatening social media posts about the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a non-profit with a mission to, as its motto states, “Welcome the stranger. Protect the refugee.” And one week before the shooting, the HIAS had organized a National Refugee Shabbat, in which 270 synagogues in 32 states participated. “We cannot be bystanders, because we are Jewish,” said HIAS president and CEO Mark Hetfield.
And we can’t be bystanders either.
This was a crime against American values. But values aren’t fixed. Values that aren’t defended can wither, and other values can overtake them.
The Tree of Life from which the synagogue takes its name comes from a verse in Proverbs, and it refers to wisdom: “She is a tree of life to those who embrace her, and those who lay hold of her are blessed.” And that’s what the idea behind Shabbat is about, creating the space to connect with your wisdom and our values. And we strengthen our values by celebrating them. To commune not just with ourselves, but with our communities. And, as this violent tragedy has challenged us, with other communities, as well. So we encourage you to #ShowUpForShabbat this Friday. And to carry that idea forward by building some form of deliberate and mindful rest into your life. And to use that regular time to reflect not just on who you want to be, but on what you want your community and your country to be.
And we’d love to hear your thoughts as well. Add your voice to this important conversation by tagging your stories with #Shabbat.
As Elie Wiesel said: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”