Two weeks after the shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last October, I found myself at a bar mitzvah in North Carolina. It was a stunning autumnal weekend, and I watched in awe as this young man – who I’ve known since the day after he was born – led the service with confidence, sweetness, and humility. At 13, I never could have stood up in front of my family, my friends, and my peers to do such a thing. Truthfully, I could barely do it now.
As he spoke, armed policemen sat outside watching for anyone who wanted to disrupt that incredible rite of passage. The reality of anti-Semitism was fresh, though it has long been real, and so Pittsburgh was on my mind as I watched the middle schoolers celebrate at the reception. We have failed them, I thought, giving them this world in which faith cannot be protected.
One of the readings from that day made such an impact on me that I looked it up after the day had ended. Modim anachnu lach (as I understand it; please feel free to correct me) is a prayer of gratitude. I believe that it captures a sentiment we can all identify with, regardless of our background or our religious beliefs, if we are truly mindful of all that we’ve been given.
Again, today, we are reminded: we live in a time of hatred. Yet we also live in a time of love. It is our responsibility to lift up that latter mantle, to act with fierce protectiveness of it and investment in it. We must defend and celebrate the rights of others to practice their faith or indeed, to have no faith at all. We must denounce, loudly and without compromise or fear, the actions of people see the world through small and bitter eyes.
We can do better and we must do better, for we are so much better than being driven by hate. Our children deserve it, our neighbors deserve it. Strangers, at home and across the world, deserve it.
Last fall, in a synagogue, I was reminded how we can flourish when we are raised with love. It is that community – regardless of faith – in which I hope we all, someday, reside.