Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In memory of the murders in Orlando


This is the note that I sent to the United Synagogue of Hoboken community following the Orlando murders.
Dear friends,

Our community, country and world are reeling after the tragic events in Orlando on Sunday morning.  

Many of us are looking for a way to express our outrage at the murders in Orlando and to express solidarity with the families of those who were murdered, and with the LGBT community throughout the world that is disproportionately a target for hatred and violence.  
We are all invited this evening (Wednesday June 15) at 7:15pm to participate in a vigil on the steps of Hoboken City Hall, with the participation of Mayor Zimmer, the Hoboken City Council, community clergy, and members of the LGBT community in our local area.   (See http://patch.com/new-jersey/hoboken/hoboken-jersey-city-mourn-orlando-shooting-victims-vigil-set-tuesday-night

I look forward to participating in this ceremony representing Hoboken's Jewish community.

The following are some of my personal thoughts after this tragedy and at this time of challenge in our nation.  

Among my responses at a time of tragedy in the world is to pray -- to pray for comfort for the bereaved, to empathize with those who are mourning beautiful lives cut short, to express gratitude for acts of heroism that saved lives, and to pray for courage and wisdom for communal and governmental leaders.  Some belittle prayer at a time like this, implying that prayer gives us the satisfaction of feeling like we are responding to tragedy while actually accomplishing very little to solve current problems.  Indeed, there are people who use prayer as an evasion of responsibility.  But sometimes prayer is the most appropriate response in the immediate aftermath of a tragic situation. Prayer allows us to communicate our solidarity with those enduring a terrible experience, to reaffirm and recommit ourselves to our deepest values, and to reaffirm our vision of what a perfected world would look like.

However, prayer may be a necessary response, but it is not a sufficient response to this or any other tragedy.   In our tradition, prayer and study are supposed to lead to tangible action.  It's our responsibility to take reasonable steps to bring our world ever closer to a world of peace, of the fulfillment of the Biblical vision וישבו איש תחת גפנו ותחת תאנתו ואין מחריד -'All shall sit under their own vines and their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid." (Micah 4)  Our prayers remind us that we must regard our world's current level of violence as unacceptable.

Some see the Orlando massacre exclusively through the lens of Islamic extremist violence. Others see it exclusively as a problem of the easy availability of guns in the United States.  Still others see it exclusively as a manifestation of homophobia.  Others see it exclusively as a mental health tragedy.  My sense is that it is all of these, and those who look at this horrific situation through the lens of just one of these factors -- or who seek to exclude one of these factors from the discussion -- will misunderstand the tragic events and will not be able to take steps to make our world and community safer.  The truth is:  too many people in the world are poisoned by the ideology of violent radical Islamism - even if this is only a tiny percentage of Muslims in the world and in the United States, the overwhelming majority of whom are no less peaceful than any other human being. (See www.orlandostatement.com for a statement by a broad range of American Muslim leaders about this and other acts of religiously motivated violence. ) And the truth is: numerous religious traditions have for too long legitimated oppression and violence against gays and lesbians and people who are transgender.  And the truth is:  it is far too easy for dangerous people (whether motivated by radical ideology, or mental illness) to get their hands on dangerous weapons in the United States, leading to rates of gun deaths that are completely out of scale with those in other industrialized democracies.  The tragedy of Orlando results from all of these factors.   

We may not agree with each other about how to make our world safer, but we do not succeed by demonizing entire large groups of people.  Jews know too well the sting of being treated as the source of all of society's ills.  Many of us know the famous injunction of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov:  "The entire world is a very narrow bridge -- but the most important thing is:  do not be afraid."  Rebbe Nachman's words are paradoxical:  the first half says that our world is fearsome, but the second half says that we must not permit ourselves to respond primarily with fear.  Fear is a distorting emotion that all too often keeps us from being compassionate, and sometimes leads us to exacerbate the very problems we are trying to solve.   

In the immediate aftermath of tragedy, our tradition counsels that we can be most helpful simply by being present; this is part of the wisdom of the shiva mourning period that encourages us to be present for those who are bereaved. We pray that the words and the gatherings, locally and around the world, in response to this horror will help those who are bereaved, and those in the LGBT community who feel especially vulnerable this week, to know that they are not alone, because a whole world stands with them.

In the words of the prayer for peace that we regularly recite in our community:
May we see the day when bloodshed ceases,
when all people shall realize that we have not come into being to hate or to destroy.
We have come into being to praise, to labor, and to love.  
In memory of those whose lives were cruelly cut down,
may we work together with God for the fulfillment of the Biblical promise:
 ונתתי שלום בארץ ושכבתם ואין מחריד --
'I will bring peace to the land,
and you shall lie down and no one shall terrify you.'  

Shalom,

Rabbi Rob Scheinberg


(pictured:  the American flag and pride flag, flown at half mast in front of Hoboken City Hall, June 2016)
United Synagogue of Hoboken
115 Park Avenue
Hoboken, NJ 07030
201-659-4000
www.hobokensynagogue.org
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