On Monday of this week, I attended a vigil for the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting. 150-200 people attended on a cold fall day and crowded into a small gathering place on a busy street corner in Duluth. There were chants and songs and prayers along with speeches from local community leaders. I spoke as a person whose sister was murdered by bullets. Our Mayor spoke and my minister as well as a local elder from the NAACP. Many from the local Jewish community were there as well and expressed such sadness and mourning for the anti-Semitic attack on their brothers and sisters of faith.
It has been 26 years since my sister was shot. Sometimes it feels like just yesterday. The memories come and go as does the pain and the grief. I don’t cry much any more when speaking. But when the leader of the Synagogue asked us to sing and pray Kaddish for the dead and told us to think of our own losses, I cried. That moment was so emotional and powerful and almost haunting.
The vigil was testament to the solidarity we all feel when attacks come against one group of people because of anti-Semitism or racism or anti-GLBTQ or anti-abortion, or anti-Christianity or just because.
Following on the heels of the pipe bomb threats to high profile Democrats it felt like something was terribly wrong.
And predictably, the President said these words after the mass shooting at the synagogue:
When asked if the shooting indicated a need to revisit gun laws, Trump replied that the shooting “has little to do with it” and that an armed guard might have been able to stop the gunman “immediately.”Asked if he was advocating for armed guards inside of places of worship, Trump replied, “no, it’s certainly an option.”
These are corporate gun lobby words that mean nothing. Rarely has someone who is armed stopped a mass shooting. In this case, the synagogue often did have armed guards as has become necessary for many synagogues in the current atmosphere in our country. But that is different than arming worshipers. If we have to go to our places of worship with guns, then we have lost our freedom to worship in peace and tranquility.
I did speak with the person at our church in charge of building issues. He told me that we do have an evacuation plan just in case but we haven’t paid a lot of attention to it. I think it’s time to talk about this but it won’t involve weapons.
Something is terribly wrong. There is no way of avoiding the obvious. Hatred and fear of the “other” is increasing in intensity and promoted by hate groups and some of our very own leaders. The President is at the top of the heap of this fear. At the moment, in a ploy to drive his base to the polls, he has dangerously and cynically decided to issue an unconstitutional order to deny citizenship based on birth rites. The country awaits the fall-out from this ludicrous idea.
On top of that the President said on national TV that he intends to deploy 10,000-15,000 troops to our border to stop the “invasion”, as he has pronounced it, from the south. Thousands of refugees are peacefully walking towards the Mexican border from Honduras where they are afraid to live in their own country.
The Honduran migrants headed northward as part of a massive caravan are fleeing for different reasons — rank poverty, gang threats and a globalized economy that left them behind. They’re so desperate, they told me, they’re willing to gamble on a dangerous trip.
It is families with children and people of all ages and yet, the President claims these poor people are gang members and criminals and maybe a few Middle Easterners thrown in for good measure to frighten us all to death.
I am daily horrified and disgusted by this anger and fear. It should not be this way. I may be naive but I really do believe that we are better than this. Any common sense about this kind of rhetoric has flown away into thin air. We need it back.
Can we get our nation back? Can we have a calm and peaceful national conversation about any of this? As the election grows closer, the rhetoric grows more and more coarse. The ghouls of Halloween are with us every day now.
We should be praying and singing Kaddish for our country. My friend, Rabbi Michael Adam Latz, has written this piece for City Pages:
Our kids know anti-Semitism is real and it concerns them. They see it through the lens of understanding police brutality against unarmed African American men, the attacks on trans people and Muslims and Native People and Latinx and migrants and those with disabilities. They recognize that none of us are free until all of us are free.
They know in their bones that the attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh was absolutely an attack on the Jewish people—and was the same attack on the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin and the AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Our children know that unless and until we address bigotry and racism and hatred for all, none of us will be safe. (…) We—all of us—need one another. We are facing mighty waves of bigotry and violence, intolerance and cynicism. The way we will make it to shore—the way we will survive and thrive and build a community worthy of our children’s dreams—is to hold on to one another and swim to the shore, together.
We need each other and we also need a leader who can bring us together in these moments of violence and upheaval. We don’t have that leader. Who will do this? Who will fix this? When will it stop?
When I spoke on Monday I read the words of former President Barack Obama which got to the core of the matter: