Last weekend included the mixed blessings and curses with which we have become all too familiar recently. We had an outstanding completion of a great Passover week at my Congregation Beit Simcha—our first Passover! But as soon as we completed services on Saturday we heard the terrible news of the hate crime attack on the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, including the murder of a brave woman, Lori Kaye.
The rest of the weekend was somewhat blurred for me: I ended my own personal Passover with a pizza on Saturday night, and the busy schedule of classes, services, meetings and events continued. But it was very difficult not to feel sadness, anger and disappointment that yet another hate crime had been directed at yet another religious center where people gathered to pray, this time in San Diego County, where so many Tucsonans tend to visit regularly, where I vacationed often with my own children.
But do you know what emotion was missing? Shock. After the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in late October, the Christchurch mosque murders in March, the Easter Sunday slaughter in Sri Lanka at churches and hotels—325 dead, among them two Jewish teens from the Westminster Synagogue in London, origin of our own congregation’s Torah—this attack was no great surprise. A 19 year-old with neo-Nazi sentiments and a semi-automatic rifle shooting up a Chabad in Poway on the last day of Passover did not provoke the horror it should have. Are we actually becoming accustomed to atrocities?
If that’s true, we must find a way to grow beyond that and seek new ways to make a difference. I come back, again and again, to what I first said after the Tree of Life attacks and believe ever more firmly now: we defeat hatred only by building respect, understanding, friendship and meaning with those who are different from us, and with all who pray sincerely. This attack was Anti-Semitic. But it was also Anti-Muslim, Anti-Christian, Anti-Hindu, Anti-Buddhist, Anti-Sikh. It was Anti-Religious, as each of these attacks have been. Victory over this kind of hatred comes only when we build new bridges, support one another, conquer ignorance with knowledge and inspiration.
The rabbi of that Chabad, Yisroel Goldstein, did a remarkable thing and said a remarkable thing. First, after getting people away from the shooter in the sanctuary, he insisted on finishing his sermon outside the building, something I think very few of us would have done after having a finger shot off. And second, he said, “Terror will not win. Darkness is our enemy, of all kinds. We must add more light to combat this evil darkness that’s out there.”
Let us be the light, and bring light, and seek always to build understanding and respect with all who worship with sincerity. I pray that this is the last of these insane attacks. But I pray even harder that we will answer this act of hatred by respecting those who pray in different ways than we do, and uniting with them actively to build a society, and a world, that celebrates and honors difference.