After the Death (acharei mot)

Aaron’s two sons died tragically and after he did not speak. I imagine his silence was because the loss was so shocking and so unexpected. The death of Nadav and Abihu was death beyond their father’s comprehension. Lori Gilbert Kaye was shot dead on Shabbat at the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California. Her death was a terrible tragedy but not so surprising. Murder in places of worship is not beyond comprehension. And silence is not acceptable as a response.

After the death of hundreds in Sri Lanka, many in churches on Easter Sunday, we were stunned.  Within a week, the terror returned, this time to the suburbs of San Diego and we were again shaken. It was six months to the day after the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. The Jewish community response is to resume activity as normal in faith and defiance. As the prospects for hate crimes remain strong, business as usual will not suffice.

There are Internet websites inciting hatred of Jews, Muslims, Blacks and others. The Anti-Defamation League describes a “hurricane of hate” on social media. Reports from the Southern Poverty Law Center describe white supremacists gathering information about houses of worship.

Our response as a country has not been sufficiently robust. There are law enforcement agencies understaffed and unable to counter the white supremacist terrorism.  There are still five states that have no hate crimes statutes.  And gun control remains an elusive dream. If you find the situation fearful, raise your voice to our legislators and political leaders.

There is also a debate in some Jewish communities on how to best secure our institutions. Some argue that we can’t keep the doors to our holy places locked and our hearts open. Others wonder if armed guards reinforce fear reducing attendance at synagogues. Some argue that security makes those who worship feel more secure. If you are concerned, please get involved in these conversations. 

Keeping silent at this time is wrong and immoral.  It is time for us to call out “Shema!”, listen up!  Not thoughts, not prayers, but action. Leaders who equivocate about hate-filled white supremacists must be denounced.  Automatic weapons bans must be enacted.  Hate crimes laws must be enforced. The eradication of hate must be taught in our schools.

When you are done reading this, contact your US representatives by calling 202-225-3121, and US senators by calling 202-224-3121. Ask the operator to connect you to the individual office of your representative.  Demand accountability from our leaders.

We cannot say that the murder in Poway, California was unexpected. When the next attack comes on a mosque, synagogue or church, we might not even be at all shocked. Rather than be reactive we must be proactive. I believe that if we remain quiet we will never be safe and if we keep silent we ourselves may be complicit. And do it for the memory of Lori Gilbert Kaye.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame