Speaking at Solidarity Sabbath at Kehilot Shalom Synagogue

November 3, 2018

Thank you to Rabbi Arian and the Kehilot Shalom community for inviting me to speak on this Shabbot.  It is generally an unusual event for a politician to address a Jewish community on Friday evening, but today we stand in Solidarity with not just our community, but with the persecuted and oppressed everywhere.  Therefore, that makes this Saturday indeed different from all other Saturdays.

I have spent a week thinking about what to say and how to say it.  In the last week, I have had many examples to draw on, for both what to say and what not to say.  I am not sure that what I have prepared are the right words.  I do not know that there are “right” words.

I am grateful that I have never directly been a victim of gun violence.  I consider myself lucky.  However, it has come close too many times to count.  When Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot publicly meeting with her constituents, I saw myself in that moment.  I had just become a father for the first time two months before the innocent children of Sandy Hook were gunned down, and felt the suffering on the faces of the parents who just experienced the unimaginable.  The night of the Aurora shooting, my niece who lives in the suburbs of Denver, was going to see Batman: the Dark Knight with friends and only decided not go to the Aurora theater by chance.  This past Saturday is particularly difficult.  My daughter attends Hebrew school right here at Kehilot Shalom and my wife works as a staff member at B’Nai Shalom of Olney, where my younger daughter also goes to daycare.  It could have been any synagogue, anywhere.

I am grateful for our community coming together.  And when I say community, I don’t just mean the Jewish community, but all of us, and I want to personally thank all of our friends and neighbors of different faiths or no faith at all for standing with us today.

It is important to remember that the attack on the Tree of Life community was not just because they are Jewish, but also because of the values that we have as Jews. Namely, because they were working with HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, to do what we are instructed by the Torah to do – Welcome the Stranger, open our hearts and our homes to those that are seeking shelter, protection, and freedom.  This is what we are told to do, directed to do.  It is why our door is open during the Passover Sedar (not just to welcome Elijah), it is why our Sukkahs are open to celebrate the end of the Fall harvest.  It is one of the ways we are able to fulfill our requirement for Tikkun Olam.

So how do we move forward?  Do we scream?  Declare war on those who would bring us harm?  Arms ourselves and cower in fear of everyone that looks different, sounds different, worships differently? I say no.  That is not who we are.

The world is standing with us in our moment of need.  Today, the front-page headline of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is the Mourner’s Kaddish written in Hebrew.  The Pittsburgh Penguins have converted their logos to the Star of David.  The University of Pittsburgh basketball team, a team made up primarily of African American players, is wearing a Star of David on their jerseys with the words “Stronger Than Hate.”  We must also stand with all of them. We are not alone.

That means we stand with migrants, refugees, and immigrants.  The huddled masses and wretched refuse of others’ teeming shores.  We welcome them regardless of what our economy looks like or whether or not they speak English when they cross a border.  We don’t say go back and do it the “right way”, because there is no “right way” to save your family from violence and oppression.  We stand with our African-American neighbors – when their churches are burned down, their polling locations are shutdown, or when their innocent men and boys are shot down.  We stand with our Muslim neighbors when they are harassed, discriminated against, or threatened. In 2018, right here in Maryland, to our north in Howard County, there is a candidate for County Council whose campaign literature openly touts his efforts to oppose the opening of a Mosque.  We stand with our LBGT community who face opposition and violence every single day for just trying to live and love like everyone else.  And we also need to stand with those middle-aged white men, some of whom perpetuate these crimes against us.  Because they too have fear, it is what drives many of these senseless acts of hate.  They fear their jobs being shipped overseas, their skills becoming obsolete, and a loss of their future.  Because if we don’t stand up for them too, they will look for someone to blame, and we are all an easy scapegoat.

A friend of mine who works in the entertainment industry once told me about a conversation he had with Lee Greenwood some time ago.  Lee Greenwood, the author and singer of the song “Proud to be an American” told him that the only time he ever makes any money is when something terrible happens.  Now, this story was second-hand and a long time ago, so I have no idea if Mr. Greenwood ever actually said it, but the anecdote makes a valid point.  We cannot stand in solidarity when it is convenient to us or when it is easy for us.  We have to do it all the time, even when it is inconvenient or difficult, or else it is meaningless at best; self-serving at worst.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”  Thank you for hanging with me today, despite being way over my time.  Thank you for standing up for our values, and thank you for being here in solidarity.  We are stronger because of it.

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