I have spent the last year hating hate.
One year ago today 11 people were murdered while praying in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue in the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States. The shocking connection between HIAS and the shooting was made by the white supremacist murderer who said he wanted to kill Jews because HIAS had been bringing “invaders to kill (his) people.”
Hate speech and the violence that it brings is why our hearts are still broken today. We remember the Pittsburgh shooting with great pain and sorrow and we hope the memories of those who were killed will be for a blessing, yihiyu zichronam l’vracha. The Tree of Life building that houses three congregations–Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, New Light, and Dor Hadash, the congregation that had recently participated in HIAS’ National Refugee Shabbat–is forever changed, much like the city itself. Our Pittsburgh refugee resettlement partner, Jewish Family and Community Services, continues its efforts but with the weight of the knowledge that hatred was directed at the work that they do and the people they serve.
All the anger and resentment that we have been experiencing in this country and all over the world, with increased attacks on refugees and asylum seekers, is not to be understood in a vacuum. We cannot disentangle white nationalism, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigration sentiment because they are all bound together by hate. It has been our mission at HIAS to welcome the stranger, but part of that welcome must now include the banishing of the hatred of the “other.”
While the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. has decreased, HIAS has expanded its work, opening new offices in many countries and providing help to those fleeing violence. Our work is a reflection of the priorities of those who stood with us after the Pittsburgh shooting and said they wanted us to continue what we have always done. The Jewish community must be resolute in its commitment to stand against every act of hate and to stand for refugees and immigrants. We must all stand up rather than stand by.
If you are looking for a way to take action, HIAS is asking our constituents and the Jewish community to participate in National Refugee Shabbat in 2020, and we hope that it will be even larger than last year. We hope that others join in whatever way they can. We hope that your involvement is what can lead to real change, and show the world how much more powerful welcome can be than fear.
What happened a year ago was a wake-up call. We must wake up and protect the refugee but we must also stop hate speech. Leadership matters. And as our national leaders are not leading the fight, we must do it ourselves. We must stand with all refugees today, but we must stand against hate in every form for every day forward. Because we must wake up to a better world.