This Shooting was different. But why?!
For some reason it was different this time. We had just finished Havdallah and were hearing the news of the murderous attack in Pittsburgh. Reports were sketchy, but the story was all too familiar: Jews were being murdered. Murdered for being Jews. Murdered whilst practicing their Judaism. The storyline was familiar, but something felt different.
I was trying to understand what it was when my phone went. On the line was the duty police officer for Trafford. He was checking in with reassurances and also to explain that there would be increased patrols around the Shul for the immediate future, and asked if there were any large events planned at the Shul. After thanking him, I mentioned that we had our Civic Shabbat in two weeks and he replied that it was in the Station diary, and Inspector Stewart would be attending.
Eighteen hours later, I was still trying to grasp what felt different, when the names of the eleven Jews murdered in the Shul were released. Ranging in age from 54 to a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor, they were there for a regular Shabbat morning service and also to celebrate a Brit Milah. At every Brit Milah we say ‘B’domayich Chayi’ – ‘by your blood you shall live’; how perverse that the opposite became the truth here? To walk into a Shul and be greeted with a friendly ‘Shabbat Shalom’ only to hear half an hour later ‘all Jews must die’!
That was when I figured it out. This felt different because it was so familiar. Not in the sense of Jews being murdered, but in the sense of the setting. This could have been our Shul. Contrary to the despicable comments made by Jenny Tonge, this wasn’t a political act of anti-Zionism. It can’t be connected, even by the most warped mind, to events in the Middle East. This was pure unadulterated anti-Semitism. It was the cold-blooded murder of Jews in a suburban Shul, not very different from our own.
Those eleven names could have been ours. Half an hour after Shul begins on the Shabbat of a Simcha; I know exactly who would have been in Shul, whose names would be on that grim list. It felt different because it so easily could have been us. This article would have been written by a colleague of mine about us!
As Jews we have always faced persecution and darkness with light and perseverance, we have survived through the ages with Tikvah – hope that is tangible and actionable. At the Brit Milah we say; ‘just as he merited to enter into the Covenant of Abraham, so may he merit to fulfil the Torah, stand under the Chuppah and perform good deeds’. Ours is a religion of continual action, that is ever looking forward.
On Sunday morning in Shul, we said extra Tehillim and Davenned for those injured and made a Hazkarah for those murdered. But I would like to ask that over the coming days and weeks, that each and every one of us take a moment to do something extra. Grasp the life that you have, treasure the religion that respects that life, and light up the world with positivity. Call someone in need. Open a book of Tehillim. Give some extra Tzedakah. Say a Brocha before eating. Light the Shabbat Candles. Be careful about not speaking Loshon Horah. The list is over 600 long; choose one.
In two weeks, on Shabbat 10 November, when we commemorate for the 100th time the end of ‘the war to end all wars’, we will also remember the Jews of Pittsburgh. When we stand for that minutes silence, when we give thanks to those who paid the ultimate price for us to be able to come to Shul, we will stand in solidarity with those 11 pure Neshamos who paid the ultimate price in their own Shul, and we will pray for the brave Police officers who ran into harm’s way.
At both the First and Second World Wars, the men and women of the South Manchester Jewish Community stood shoulder to shoulder with their fellow English men and women. They fought for the common cause of freedom for all of mankind. They stood strong in the face of utter darkness and refused to be defeated. Together they looked evil eyeball to eyeball and said, we will not be beaten: for in unity we are stronger than you. We will persevere and we will live, and we will ensure that everyone has that same freedom.
So today I ask of you all. Every man, woman and child in this community, to attend Shul on Shabbat 10 November. We will not be cowed away from our Shuls. We will not hide in the shadows. We will not apologise or be frightened. We will stand proud, side by side with our Civic Dignitaries. We will show them that what we all fought for was worth it. We will show it in the best possible way; by living as proud Jews, appreciative of the precious gift of life and religious freedom we all hold and cherish so dearly.
Oseh Shalom Bimromav – May He who creates peace in the upper realms, grant peace to us.