The depths of heartbreak following the massacre in the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pa., Saturday is immeasurable. America the beautiful has become, for the foreseeable future, anything but, and effects of this horrendous crime will linger for a long time to come.
But we should not be surprised it occurred. For not too very long ago a gunman entered a church in Charleston, S.C., and also massacred worshipers engaged in what they thought was the sacred act of praying in safety in a safe haven. Now it's happened to Jews.
Many see this as an atrocious act of anti-Semitism. And it is. But it is not only that. It is an act of hate, and for the extremists of this country, hatred has no limits. It targets Jews, as well as African Americans and other races, sexes and cultures. For them, intolerance reigns, and love and respect for others is a foreign concept. We all suffer in the face of such heinous monstrosity.
Meanwhile, who can begin to understand what the victims' families must be going through right now? How will they ever be able to come to terms with the fact that at a moment of such joy as a bris ceremony, their loved ones lives were taken by individual whose hatred knows no bounds? How will they ever be able to cope with what must be seen as a loss with no reason or purpose whatsoever? Who will be able to heal the broken hearts?
For the Jews and others who attended a special memorial service held in Baltimore Hebrew Congregation on Sunday morning, it was the saddest moment of pain and wrenching loss. Many of those present have family members, friends and acquaintances living in Pittsburgh, any of whom could have been present at the scene of the massacre. Yet in a spirit of absolute unity, these people of all backgrounds and ethnicities and cultures came together by the hundreds to show their solidarity and uncompromising rejection of hatred in general and anti-Semitism in particular.
Less than 24 hours after the tragedy, the Jewish community of Baltimore bonded and created a beautiful service of memorial and support.
It’s also important to note that, while individual acts of hatred are horrendous, institutionalized and organized acts of hatred and anti-Semitism have become the norm for many European countries, where iron fences and locked gates surround the synagogues, and the real fear of being Jewish pervades large swaths of the continent.
America is different. President Donald Trump announced that he will visit Pittsburgh in the wake of the massacre, expressing the reaction of the majority of Americans when he said on Twitter: “This evil Anti-Semitic attack is an assault on humanity. It will take all of us working together to extract the poison of Anti-Semitism from our world. We must unite to conquer hate.”
And in Pittsburgh itself, a modified version of the Steelers logo is circulating with the Star of David front and center, and well-wishers from afar are gathering to console the extended congregation of the Tree of Life. We too should be actively involved in long-term assistance and comfort to the bereaved in showing enduring national solidarity. The pain will endure, but the pain can also be comforted with the knowledge that others nationwide are with them always.
May the souls of the dead be bound in the bond of eternal Life. And let us all say “amen.”
Chaim Landau is past president of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis and Rabbi Emeritus of the Ner Tamid Congregation in Baltimore. His email is Land6@verizon.net.