Three weeks ago, the poisonous hatred of anti-Semitism was on full display when a man who said he was on a mission to “kill all the Jews” stormed into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, killed 11 worshipers, injured two others and wounded four police officers who heroically responded to the attack.
Innocent people peacefully practicing their right to worship were gunned down in their own synagogue in the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history.
As a Christian pastor, I have never been the target of anti-Semitism. What is it like to live in fear of being hunted and killed simply because of your heritage or religion? I can’t even begin to imagine. I’ve been fortunate to never have to live with that fear every waking moment of my life.
That was the daily reality for Jews in Europe under Nazi rule during the Holocaust, when German dictator Adolf Hitler embraced the immoral ideology of anti-Semitism and ordered the slaughter of 6 million Jews – the largest massacre targeted against any one group of people in history.
Tragically, as the mass murder at the Pittsburgh synagogue showed, the evil of anti-Semitism is still with us. And recently anti-Semitism has emerged as an ever-present reality for Jews around the world.
Chants of “Death to Israel” are the norm in Iran, a nation whose leaders vow to wipe Israel off the map. And even Britain is dealing with anti-Semitism, seeing an uptick in incidents as the Labor Party leader himself has made disparaging comments toward Jews.
Religious leaders and politicians in America are on record saying horrific things as well, with a U.S. congressional candidate calling Israel “evil.”
Putting an end to this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Even people from diverse religious backgrounds and faith convictions should be able to see the blatant disregard for human life in an ideology that hates an entire group of people. It’s racism, it’s bigotry, and the entire world should unite to say loudly and clearly: No more, never again.
The reality of the Holocaust should have already made this an obvious commitment to people around the world, yet shockingly it hasn’t.
Americans should do everything we can to bring justice where injustice has reigned, no matter how insurmountable the threat may seem, no matter how many other nations fail to lead the way. Where hate has found safe harbor, let’s overwhelm it with love. Where bigotry has aimed to destroy, let’s spend every waking moment trying to rebuild.
While the Holocaust may seem like an eternity ago, there are thousands of Holocaust survivors living in Israel today who need help. These survivors have already endured unthinkable tragedy in their past. Don’t they deserve a better future?
Last year, our church raised money to help purchase two properties in Israel – one in Jerusalem and one in Haifa. These locations provide food, shelter and safety for Holocaust survivors in need. It’s just one small way we’re trying to be a part of the solution.
The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh has raised almost $240,000 for the victims of the synagogue attack and the families of those who lost loved ones. Good for all who donated. What a perfect example of placing humanity ahead of any religious and ideological differences.
At Free Chapel, our attitude is the same toward any people who have endured bigotry and marginalization in their homeland or elsewhere, whether that’s Christians attacked in Iraq and Syria, or Muslims persecuted in Burma and China. Freedom of worship should be widely considered a basic human right. And we should never tolerate even a hint of bigotry on the basis of religion, race, or creed
Where hate has found safe harbor, let’s overwhelm it with love. Where bigotry has aimed to destroy, let’s spend every waking moment trying to rebuild.
I’m in Israel now, scheduled to tour the Holy Land and meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During our visit we’ll be looking for more ways we can help solve the problem of anti-Semitism and religious bigotry around the world.
By far the greatest example of love overwhelming hate after the horror in Pittsburgh came from the hospital where the accused synagogue shooter was rushed to receive emergency care for his wounds. I couldn’t believe the words I was hearing as I listened to the interview of Jeffrey Cohen, the Jewish president of Allegheny General Hospital. Cohen said that at least three of the doctors and nurses who kept the accused gunman alive are Jewish themselves.
It was a plot twist like I’ve never seen before, and a stunning display of character, as people whom the shooter pledged to kill stood by his side and saved his life.
In a moment of profound humility, when asked to describe how he felt when he personally met the accused shooter at the hospital, Cohen responded with grace and poise that only God Himself could impart: “He’s some mother’s son. And how did he get from that to where he is today? That’s going to be a large debate that we have to have as a society.”
It was a tender response of genuine concern for trying to determine how we identify the roots of such hatred and proceed to stop the madness and the violence that result. Cohen added that it wasn’t his job to judge the man. He said his job, and the job of his staff, was to care for whoever comes through that hospital. And that’s exactly what they did that day.
As children of God, we all have a job to do too. The most important thing our Creator has ever asked us to do is to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Before any other priority, before any allegiance to any other creed, may that be our response.
I have a feeling that if love becomes our battle cry, the war against anti-Semitism and against every form of bigotry and racism will finally be won.