A thank you and an offer
Our area’s Jewish community has been touched and overwhelmed by all the support we have received beginning a week ago Saturday, after news of the murder of 11 people in Pittsburgh attending Shabbat services at the Tree of Life Congregation.
If you want to know something about Jews, it’s that we are family all over the world. Whether you were born Jewish or have become Jewish, chances are you are not more than two degrees separated from any other Jew.
Our local Jewish community includes people for whom Tree of Life itself is part of their life story – grew up there, got married there. So a lot of our week has been consoling people who have roots in Pittsburgh, or the people we know who live and work in the Pittsburgh Jewish community. And because we are all like family, for most of us the week has felt like a shiva, the traditional week of mourning that follows a Jewish burial.
The words and acts of comfort we have received from our wider community are soothing and healing. The Islamic Center of Greater Lowell sent a message of peace to us and to their own membership expressing solidarity. The people at the Unitarian Universalist Church, young and old, took time to write us notes and draw us pictures during their service last Sunday. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offered to bring us food when we had a memorial gathering early in the week. Senator Maggie Hassan called me on the phone, as part of her outreach every rabbi in New Hampshire. We have been overwhelmed with letters and gestures, particularly from religious communities.
We are so grateful to the Nashua Police Department, for bringing extra protection around our synagogue. Last Sunday, the Nashua Interfaith Council Interfaith CROP Walk drew some 300 people from about 15 faith groups to Temple Beth Abraham, for a fundraising walk, meal, and musical celebration. Mayor Donchess was there, and the police were there with the thanks of all the walkers. We were so buoyed that people did not avoid our synagogue out of fear, but rather came in defiance of what the gunman in Pittsburgh stands for.
I refuse to let the act of one man change the way I feel about my country. My sense of belonging, my sense of pride and hope about what our nation can be. I am not afraid to be in the synagogue, which is both a center for our Jewish community and my own workplace. I will not take the kippah off of my head.
Yet I have spent the week thinking about what I could ask of and offer to you, the wider community, as a response to anti-Semitism.
Of course, what I want is for you to stand up to it. If you hear a stereotype or slur, or read one on social media, do not let it go. That goes for any group, of course, not only Jews. This is a time for the vast majority of peaceful people to stop being bystanders, at any level of hate. It’s not a comfortable thing to do. But know that even at the level of what seems like casual conversation, it makes a difference.
That is the easy ask. What I have come to realize is that in this place where Jews are such a small group, there is a lot of misunderstanding that is, well, understandable. You may not have met Jewish people as friends or experienced any Jewish celebrations or customs.
So I want to invite to you to ask me your questions about Judaism, Jews, Jewish history. Ask to come and see our synagogue, on your own or with a group you put together. Or invite me to come and speak to your group or your class.
Ask me what it’s like to read the Bible and not take on personally the major tenets of Christianity. Ask me about Chanuka and Christmas.
Ask me how my family got to this country. Ask me about the Nazi Holocaust. Ask me about recognizable Jewish people in media, entertainment, and government. Ask me about Israel.
Ask anything. I promise that you won’t have to worry about saying something the wrong way or something that will hurt me. Anything goes. You can find contact information for me on our synagogue website, tbanashua.org.
I want to build our diverse community on as solid a foundation as possible. So I invite you, and I ask you, to explore your conceptions and questions about Jews and Judaism with me. Some people have approached me already this week, and it has been fruitful and important. The better we know each other, the stronger all of us will be against hate.
Jonathan Spira-Savett is the rabbi serving Temple Beth Abraham in Nashua, and a past president of the Nashua Area Interfaith Council.