FOLLOWING THE October 27 shooting, US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump walk with Tree of Life synagogue rabbi Jeffrey Myers as White House advisers Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner walk with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, outside the synagogue on October 30..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Robert Bowers, an American Neo-Nazi with a twisted mind and a corrupt heart, purportedly came to the “Tree of Life” synagogue in order to kill Jews because of their support for immigrants. He slaughtered 11 people while they were praying, only because they were Jews. Four lessons come to mind.
1) A lesson about the US Jewish community: For many years, I have been connected to the Jewish community in the United States – with great love and some jealousy. As an Israeli, I am jealous of the Jewish community in the United States – of Jewish pluralism, of the cooperation between streams of Judaism. I personally have been in touch with Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews, Reform Jews, Reconstructionist Jews, with Humanist-Secular Jews and with a variety of new and diverse liberal Jewish communities. Jews in the United States all have a place – together. On the day of the murder there were three different congregations praying together in the Conservative “Tree of Life” synagogue, each with a different style of prayer, each with a different Jewish worldview – in a shared home.
This is the very best of Judaism, and it is so lacking for us here in Israel. This Judaism (representing 40% of the Jewish people) is being alienated and excluded by the government of Israel, ripping it away from the natural connection that is so very important to the national homeland of the Jewish people. At the Pittsburgh synagogue, where they are now burying their dead, I have a friend I got to know through Hashomer Hatzair in North America 31 years ago. From what she wrote me, from the words of her young son, I sense the power of the community gathering in mourning, embracing the families of the victims and looking toward the future with hope rather than with fear and hatred – this is the Judaism of North America.
2) A lesson about Jewish-Muslim relations: Only a few hours after the shocking murder, the Muslim community in the United States launched a donation project – with a call for financial assistance for the synagogue victims, for the immediate needs of burial and for medical expenses for members of the Jewish community. As I am writing this, they have raised $180,000 – mutual responsibility of the Muslim community toward the Jewish community. Something so simple emerges as so exceptional in our world of hatred. The pure humanism of love for people and the partnership between two cultures really moves me – this is the future of the world and it appeared to us out of the slaughter, where hatred seems almost natural. The leaders of the future will be those who will join together in a partnership of cultural difference as displayed here by the gracious American Muslim community. We in Israel can learn a lot from this lesson, about the connection between Muslims and Jews.
3) A lesson about the Israeli government: A few hours after the murder, Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett packed his suitcases and flew to Pittsburgh. After all, he is the Diaspora Affairs Minister and we are the Jewish State, right? Not really. A few days before the murder, the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of America was held in Israel. This annual event of the Jewish community moves from North America to Israel once every five years. But the Minister of Diaspora Affairs was not there. He ran away. He was in Israel, but chose not to come to meet the North American Jewish community in Tel Aviv because he knew that he would not be received affectionately. He ran away despite being the Minister of Diaspora Affairs.
He is in fact part of the constant and deep damage being inflicted on the Jewish Diaspora with the 40% of the Jewish people outside of Israel living in the United States. The government of Israel, essentially not recognizing and respecting non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, is inflicting great and painful damage. The Israeli government does not recognize their converts, does not allow them to pray at the Western Wall according to their customs and beliefs. Bennett was not prepared to meet them in Tel Aviv, but he managed to fly to Pittsburgh. He was received politely in Pittsburgh because there they believe in “togetherness of the tribes of Israel,” in the centrality and importance of the State of Israel, even while knowing they do not have a lot in common with it.
The Jews of Pittsburgh are victims of a terrible tragedy, the result of incitement against them for being Jews in the United States who support immigrants and asylum seekers, while here in Israel Bennett pursues asylum seekers and immigrants and intends to act in coming weeks to bypass the Israeli Supreme Court in order to expel them. In Pittsburgh, there is Jewish pluralism, acceptance of the other and inclusion of diversity. Bennett and the Israeli government represent opposite values – Orthodoxy, hatred of the other and ethnocentrism. The bridge between the government of Israel and the American Jewish community has never been so narrow and fragile.
4) A lesson about Trumpism: Even less wanted in Pittsburgh than Bennett is the president of the United States. This is what leaders of the Jewish community in Pittsburgh explicitly wrote: “You are not wanted in our city until you fully denounce white nationalism in the United States… The spread of lies and sowing of fear deliberately undermines the security of people of a different color, the LGBTQ, and handicapped. The Torah teaches us that every human being is made in the image of God.”
President Donald Trump, who after a murder by white nationalists last year in Charlottesville, spoke affectionately about the “good guys” among the “white supremacists,” has still not labeled the event in Pittsburgh as an act of terrorism. Had it been carried out by a Muslim it would of course be terrorism, leading to severe damage to the community I wrote about in the first lesson. But no, this is a white plague that sprouted out of the garden beds where Trump supporters have blossomed, bringing him into power.
Trump is the world’s leader in the politics of fear and hatred of the other, and he is not alone – this week Brazil elected a president from the extreme right wing, joining the presidents of Hungary and Poland and more and more. To our great embarrassment, they are Israel’s best friends in the world today. Our government of hatred toward the other is well connected to the governments inflaming this hatred, encouraging antisemitism, leading to murder like the one in Pittsburgh this week. Trump is loved by the Jewish citizens of Israel and hated by the overwhelming majority of the Jews of the United States – this, too, is a worrisome lesson we gained from the murder this week.
From these four lessons, I choose a combination of hope and responsibility. For me, this is the lesson of the “Tree of Life” congregation: hope for the ability to live together, the responsibility to ensure that our future reflects this.
The writer is CEO of Givat Haviva – the Center for a Shared Society.
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