It was one of those moments.
Where were you when you heard of the shooting in Pittsburgh?
I was picking up my son at a friend’s house Motzei Shabbat, I had come straight from shul. There were a few friends together and a few minutes later, another Dad came to pick up. He came in with an ashen look on his face, holding his phone. That is where I was when I heard.
Over the next few hours, we gathered the details of what had become the most deadly anti-Semitic attack on American soil.
There was shock
There were tears
There was disbelief
That night, I received a message requesting me to speak at a hastily arranged memorial service for the victims on Sunday lunchtime in Golders Green. My address (click here to watch address) was focussed on the pain of the tragedy and the fact that it was irrelevant which shul they davened in – they were Jews, part of our family, part of our nation and that was why we mourn. The fact that Naftali Bennett came immediately as part of the Government of Israel demonstrated the fact that we are one family. The Jewish state coming to mourn with the Jewish community in America. It was not about blaming anyone – it was purely about mourning our loss as a family.
We read Parshat Chayei Sarah on Shabbat – Avraham Avinu begins the parsha mourning the loss of his beloved Sarah. The pasuk says ‘Vayavoh Avraham lispod l Sarah v’livkotah. And Avraham came to eulogise Sarah and to weep for her.’
We wept and mourned on Sunday for the 11 victims of terror in a correct and meaningful way. No need for any politics or points scoring – Jews had died Al Kiddush Hashem, killed by a neo Nazi.
However, then I picked up the Jewish Chronicle this morning – at first I was very moved – the front cover was so meaningful and fitted in a moving way with the other memorials that have occurred. It was a black and white photo of the Rabbi of the Tree of Life Synagogue hugging his congregants in the shul with the names of the victims on the side and the words Yehi Zichram Baruch – May there memory be blessed.
So apt, so fitting.
Then I opened the paper – the opening double page – three articles – all eventually focussed on one person – President Donald Trump. The JC clearly wanted to show a linkage and that the shooting happened because of the actions of Donald Trump.
And then the following page – again more linkage between Trump and the tragedy.
I am not here to defend or attack him – but why the need? We know we have our enemies – on the right are the neo-Nazis and their European-style traditional racism and on the left radical – Islam and those who loathe the State of Israel and call for its destruction.
This was not the time for politicising the attack or scoring points. Yet here was a clear political agenda at work at a time when there should be none.
Finally, they get over Trump and decide to then bash the Chief Rabbis of Israel and the Charedim. This is probably the worst of all as the actual truth of the matter was known by Tuesday, yet they still ran with the article ‘Rabbis avoid calling Tree of Life a synagogue’.
In their article they say that Chief Rabbi Lau refused to call the Tree of Life a Synagogue. That he refused to be drawn on the matter describing it only as ‘a place where the murderer saw a place with a prominent Jewish character, a place with Torah scrolls, Jews with prayer shawls, there are siddurim (prayer-books) there, there are people who came there for the sake of closeness to God.’
However, Rabbi Lau’s quote was grossly taken out of context — in the full interview, the Chief Rabbi mourned the victims and emphasised that a conversation about denominational differences is irrelevant here.
What happened was that Rabbi Lau was asked to comment on the ultra-Orthodox Israeli news outlets’ coverage of the massacre, which refused to call the Tree of Life Synagogue a “synagogue” but rather calling it a “Jewish Centre.”
Rabbi Lau was evidently aghast. “How is that relevant? Don’t bring that up in [connection to] this topic. We are talking about Jews murdered because they are Jews. Why is this even a question?! I don’t hear or understand what kind of a discussion can be in regard to this question. They were murdered because they were Jews. Why does it matter in what synagogue or what liturgy they were praying?! I repeat: We are talking about Jews and we cannot take advantage of unnecessary moments. We cannot turn this pain into a topic of debate – this is not a topic [of debate] at all. Yes, I have a hard-ideological difference with them, on the subject of Judaism, about its past and its implications for the future of the Jewish people throughout the generations, so what?! But because of this, they are not Jews?!”
Why does the JC have to score points? Why not actually print the story correctly? Once again it fits an agenda.
Why does the JC have to bash Trump and bash the Chareidim? This is not the time.
At least in other Jewish papers we had pictures of the victims and a small hesped for each – that is what I want to see, what I want to read in a Jewish paper about the tragedy.
At least the JC on the back page ended their coverage with the line ‘We all share the grief and the horror, and we all feel the pain. We read the stories of the eleven men and women killed. And we mourn their deaths.’ I wish the inside of the paper could have matched the outside!
However, I will end with the most beautiful Jewish tribute to Pittsburgh that focussed not on blaming anyone, not on private agendas or petty politics but on love of our fellow Jew and the incredible nature of the Jewish people.
It was a picture of a box of chocolates sent to the Pittsburgh community from the Har Nof Community that suffered the murder of six community members in shul in 2014. It had a note attached.
‘Today we cry, we turn towards Hashem and cry along with all of you and the wonderful Jewish people. Tomorrow we will continue building, just like our parents and their parents taught us. When our community was hit, once simple gesture stood out during the shiva. Teenagers from Itamar (a yishuv that had experienced a horrible massacre in 2011) went around door to door, handing out each family a chocolate bar with a note, the note read:
‘Dear Har Nof community, we are with you in your pain – the Itamar community’
It was so sweet. A small gesture that meant so much. We felt hugged. The Har Nof community is trying to arrange a similar gesture: to you the Pittsburgh community.
We hope you feel the hug
We the Jewish people fight back by living life, stronger, better, more loving…
Our prayers and hearts are with you.
With all our love, may we all be able to feel Hashems love and please Hashem let this be the last tragedy. Help us turn this tragedy into the final triumph: The complete Redemption – Geulah Sheleimah
Mi K’amcha Yisrael Goi Echad B’aretz – who is like you Israel, a unique nation in the world.
Yehi Zichram Baruch – may their memory be blessed.
Rabbi Andrew Shaw