I’m heartbroken about what happened in the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh yesterday. A congregation gathered on Shabbat to celebrate a new life at a bris ceremony was interrupted by a shooter with an assault rifle and three handguns screaming “All Jews must die!” Eleven people were killed and six were seriously injured.
Years ago when I heard from people who had visited European synagogues describe the armed guards and security of the synagogues, it saddened me that Europe had come to this and was grateful that we didn’t have to worry about things like that in America. After 9/11, that was no longer the case here, as synagogues now regularly have a police presence at High Holiday services and other Jewish gatherings.
Same week as Kristallnacht
In preparation for a Holocaust-related exhibit that starts Nov. 8 at the East Valley JCC, I learned that Nov. 9 of this year is the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” when Nazis throughout Germany and Austria staged violent pogroms (riots) against Jews. (The name “Kristallnacht” refers to the broken windows of synagogues, Jewish-owned stores, community centers, and homes plundered and destroyed that night, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.)
According to the museum, “Instigated by the Nazi regime, rioters burned or destroyed 267 synagogues, vandalized or looted 7,500 Jewish businesses, and killed at least 91 Jewish people. They also damaged many Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and homes as police and fire brigades stood aside. Kristallnacht was a turning point in Nazi anti-Jewish policy that would culminate in the Holocaust—the systematic, state-sponsored mass murder of the European Jews.”
In researching a date for my oldest son’s bar mitzvah next year, I learned that Lech Lecha (my husband’s bar mitzvah parsha) falls on Nov. 9 in 2019, which was also the date of Kristallnacht in 1938. I was curious if that was the same parsha on the actual date of Kristallnacht and found that the Torah portion that week in 1938 was Vayera.
Chillingly, I realized this morning that the Torah portion the same week of Kristallnacht, 80 years ago, was the same Torah portion as last week, when there was a synagogue shooting in the United States with the shooter screaming “All Jews must die!”
This means that on the Hebrew calendar, these two attacks took place during the same week, 80 years apart. Is this a reminder about the dangers of anti-Semitic rhetoric and what it can lead to?
Vayera: Isaac’s bris and Avraham’s test
What happens in the parsha of Vayera? I pulled out our copy of “The Little Midrash Says” and here’s a summary.
- Hashem visits Avraham three days after his bris. (FYI Kristallnacht was on a Wednesday, Shabbat is on a Saturday, three days later.) The message of this is the importance of visiting the sick (“Hashem personally came to visit Avraham to teach us how important it is to visit sick people.”)
- Angels visit Avraham and he treats them well and serves them a meal, which is an example of how to treat guests. One of the angels tell Sara that she will have a son by that time next year and he will come celebrate at the bris. (Sara laughed at this news, as she was nearly 90 years old.)
- Hashem threatens to destroy the town of S’dom and neighboring towns because they are full of wicked people. Avraham pleas with Hashem to not destroy the towns. But the people in those towns were so evil, S’dom was destroyed.
- Avraham moves to Be’er Sheva, in the south of Eretz Yisrael and he begins to teach people around him about Hashem.
- Isaac is born – Sara was was 90, and they celebrate Isaac’s bris.
- Avraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away and Hagar is told that her son “will become the forefather of a big nation.” (Muslims are considered descendants of Ishmael.)
- Hashem asks Avraham to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah, which is considered as the ultimate test you can give to a father. At the last moment, Hashem stops Avraham and tells him it was only a test and he shouldn’t follow through.
Although this week’s horrific act was committed by one individual at one synagogue, it’s painful for Jews throughout the world. The fact that it occurred during the global Shabbos Project weekend (described as “Jews from all walks of life, from across the spectrum of religious affiliation, young and old, from all corners of the world – come together to experience the magic of one full Shabbat kept together”) makes that concept even more poignant. More than 1 million Jews celebrating Shabbat in nearly 100 countries on the same day this occurs.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into this or making connections that don’t exist – and what’s really important now is helping those who were affected by this tragic event – but it’s still chilling nonetheless.
(Donate to help the victims of the attack and their families through the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh’s Victims of Terror Fund.)
Blog posts on synagogue website
A July 19, 2018 blog post on the Tree of Life Congregation website by Rabbi Jeffrey Myers is titled “We Deserve Better.” In this post, the rabbi talks about the school shootings and writes: “Unless there is a dramatic turnaround in the mid-term elections, I fear that that the status quo will remain unchanged, and school shootings will resume. I shouldn’t have to include in my daily morning prayers that God should watch over my wife and daughter, both teachers, and keep them safe. Where are our leaders?”
In his most recent post, dated Oct. 24, called “A Little Bit of Joy,” the rabbi writes about simchas and funerals (specifically a bris and a funeral) and the importance of making time to observe both.
The unthinkable happened
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the anti-Semitic Pittsburgh synagogue shooting is believed to be the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the U.S.
As ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said in a statement in response to the shootings, “It is simply unconscionable for Jews to be targeted during worship on a Sabbath morning, and unthinkable that it would happen in the United States of America in this day and age.”
Prayers for all of those who lost loved ones in the attack and may our own actions bring more light into our increasingly dark world.