On Monday, my family drove from Baltimore to Pittsburgh, where my wife was born and raised and much of our family remains, to pay respects to those killed in the mass shooting this weekend. And on Tuesday, as I stood outside the Rodef Shalom synagogue, where the first funerals were to be held, my heart was racing — and quickly breaking from grief and disbelief.
Of the 11 souls brutally gunned down, two were cousins of my wife. Brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal were gentle, kind, fun loving, life embracing individuals. They were what is good and decent about humanity. And now, along with nine other remarkable people, they are gone.
All had stories, hopes and dreams. All gone.
What happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh could easily have happened anywhere. Such events have become all too common in our country. I don’t intend to dive into the political rhetoric that follows tragedy, however, but to share my very personal perspective on it, now that it has hit so close to my heart.
Listening to the eulogies, I wondered: How did we get here? How, could a person be so consumed by hatred that he entered a place of worship, screaming words of hate as he killed good people — mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and cousins — just because they were Jewish.
How did we get here? How in this modern era is hate still so prevalent? On this occasion, the individuals were Jewish, but we are all deeply aware that you could insert many categories of people into this scenario — black, Muslim, LGBTQ and so on.
The art of listening has virtually disappeared. We have become scarily lazy. We do not endeavor to learn about the other. And, the toxic default is anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia; the disgusting list goes on.
If we value civilization, if we value our country and what it stands for, if we value humanity, if we value a life of fulfillment and joy, we must begin to authentically hear and acknowledge the “other.”
Absorb their points of view. Learn from their perspectives. Genuinely talk to one another. Get to know your neighbor. You just might change and form an understanding and appreciation that will amaze you.
Already, from this tragedy, I see a glimmer of what can be. In Pittsburgh, in Baltimore and throughout the world, diverse people of varied backgrounds are coming together in support, appreciation and love of thy neighbor.
On Friday, The Associated Jewish Community Federation and Baltimore Jewish Council are co-sponsoring an Interfaith Oneg Shabbat. This event will be as diverse as our city and as loving, joyful and fulfilling as life should be. We will stand together resolving to do our share. We will stand united in the face of bigotry and demonstrate that love of mankind can conquer evil.
And on Saturday, Jews and those who are of other faiths will pour in record numbers into area synagogues in unity, love and humanity at Baltimore’s Solidarity Shabbat. Shabbat is a time of renewal to close the week that has been — and to welcome the new. We will enter this Shabbat with heavy hearts, resilience and hope for a better tomorrow.
People can and do change. As my Yemeni born, Muslim friend who was “raised to detest Jews” proclaimed to me in a text on Sunday: “Marc, today we stand together. In love and humanity. I pray that we can peacefully walk together down life’s path.”
We hear of these events. We emote and try to understand. We may even raise our voices and act as best we can to varying depths and degrees. All important. All noble. But, clearly not enough.
To Cecil, David and the nine other extraordinary people — a former Little League coach, a doting grandfather, a vibrant 97 year old, a couple married for more than 60 years, a primary care physician, a one-time research specialist, a community dentist and a beloved retiree — I pray that your memory will be for a blessing.
Marc B. Terrill (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.