Last Saturday night the Jewish community and many others across the world had their eyes trained on a small synagogue in Texas where a terrorist had taken a rabbi and congregants hostage.
Although the terrorist’s plan was foiled by law enforcement response and heroic actions of the rabbi, comparisons were quickly made to other attacks in Jersey City, Pittsburgh, and Poway.
There is however a major difference between the Texas terrorist and these earlier attacks.
The attacks in Poway and Pittsburgh were carried out by a white supremacist intent on murdering Jews. The Jersey City shooting was inspired by the hateful teachings of the Black Hebrew Israelite cult with similar intent.
The Texas terrorist was entirely different. His ultimate goal was not just to kill Jews, but to use the incredible influence that he believed the Jewish community had to impact American foreign policy. The terrorist truly believed that a rabbi in Texas or New York could call the president, flaunt our country’s laws, and accomplish any task.
This ideology did not come out of nowhere. The terrorist heard it weekly in his local mosque in Blackburn England. The terrorist heard it when a US Congresswoman spoke about Jews controlling the US government and that it’s “All about the Benjamins.” The terrorist heard it when an executive for the Council of American Islamic Relations, or CAIR referred to synagogues as enemies and urged people to connect the dots.
That same conspiracy was used by the evilest forces in history, from Nazi Germany to Soviet Russia, to suggest that Jews control the world, and to blame them for any ills.
That same hateful rhetoric was found just this week in Kentucky when the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church of the USA demanded Jews use their influence to change US policy.
When words of hate and incitement are allowed in our society, one cannot be shocked when acts of violence follow.
We cannot allow hate to fester in our environment.
There are two immediate steps that must be taken by anyone who would claim to support the American ideals of freedom for all, and who believes that Jewish lives have value.
The first is to reject Jew hatred or antisemitism in all its forms and whenever it is heard. Whether from a religious leader, a public figure, an elected official, or just a friend on Facebook, each and every one of us has a responsibility to call out hate whenever we see it.
The second is to take positive steps to shape a better tomorrow.
Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday we commemorated this week, did not just speak of defeating hate and racism. He spoke about building a “beloved community,” and each one of us has a role to fill in that vision.
We need to increase morality In our culture, which we can do through ancient statutes like the seven Noahide laws which Judaism has preached since its earliest days. We can also do so through modern initiatives like a moment of silence in public schools to train our children to think of themselves and others and to acknowledge the intrinsic value each one of us has in society and our responsibility towards our community before they begin every school day.
U.S. synagogues are now forced to adapt as was done in Europe, Israel, and the rest of the world to invest in alarms, armed security, and rely on relationships with local law enforcement to keep their Jewish community safe. But these are all short-term answers. The long-term solution is investing in structural changes to our society, to create a culture where every person can worship God, celebrate their faith, and engage in their community without needing to feel fear.
Following the horrific terrorist attack in Kfar Chabad in 1956, the local community was shattered. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson sent these words of solace: “through your continued building you will be comforted”.
The Rebbe taught that the answer was not to hide or flee in the face of hatred but to stand proud and build a loving community.
The Rebbe’s message continues to reverberate throughout the Jewish community. This coming week Jewish students will mark Holocaust Education and Remembrance Week at UK. Every evening at 7:00 p.m. they will host a virtual lecture, film, or conversation, culminating with a holocaust survivor sharing his testimony on Jan. 27, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
This coming Saturday our Jewish Community will again gather in synagogue and celebrate our faith. Despite all that happens we do not buckle to fear and do not bow to hatred. While all efforts are made to protect our security our focus is on building a brighter future and it’s incumbent on all people of good conscience to join this sacred call.
Rabbi Shlomo Litvin is executive director of Chabad of the Bluegrass.