Progressively Speaking: Overcoming hatred a year on from the Pittsburgh terror

Progressively Speaking: Overcoming hatred a year on from the Pittsburgh terror

Deborah Blausten reflects on the progressive Jewish response to the terror attack last year at the Tree of Life shul

Pittsburgh victims
Pittsburgh victims

As the first yahrzeit of the shootings at Tree of Life – Or l’Simcha draws close, Jews all over the world are once again being encouraged to join the global campaign, #showupforshabbat.

In the wake of the attacks, this kind of solidarity and presence provided comfort to grieving congregations around the world. The weekend after the shootings, I talked to a member of the community who came to synagogue to offer his support, having read about the campaign in a local paper.

He said he had known for years the synagogue was there, but had never been inside. Standing with a member of the congregation who lives just doors from him, he said: “I hate that this is what it took for us to meet.”

As the anniversary approaches, and with it the encouragement to gather in solidarity, these words have been ringing in my ears.

In the year that has followed, Christchurch, Poway and Colombo joined Pittsburgh as places whose name became synonymous with the brutal hate-filled attacks that brought destruction and death to places of prayer and community.

Jewish tradition tells us the churban or destruction of Jerusalem’s second temple was caused by baseless hatred.

It’s a tragedy that has acted throughout history as an archetype for understanding loss, displacement and rupture, and one that can help us think about how we respond to the violation of sacred space.

Rav Abraham Isaac Kook taught that just as the temple was destroyed on account of baseless hatred, it – and we – can be rebuilt by acts of causeless love.

The outpouring of support in response to these atrocities is incredibly important, but to paraphrase our wise synagogue neighbour, it shouldn’t take this for us to meet.  The restoration of the sanctity and safety of holy spaces doesn’t just take place on the days that occasion it, but the days in between.

May we show up for Shabbat this week, and for coffee the next, knowing strong and connected communities are a powerful antidote to the violent and hateful ideology that seeks to drive us apart.

  • Deborah Blausten is a rabbinic student at Leo Baeck College


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