Tree of Life

Tree of Life

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon

On October 27, 2018, Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life Synagogue and aimed his gun and his rage at worshipers in the sanctuary. The aftermath was shocking, gruesome, and permanent. Never again did the Jewish community there or anywhere take for granted what used to be an open-door policy to welcome worshipers and visitors. This past week, he was found guilty of all 63 criminal counts for the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.   

The rise of antisemitism in America confounds all our expectations for a free and secure nation. Often it’s said that antisemitism is the bellwether of bigotry and racism in America; all minority groups are at risk when antisemitism rises. Some of you have said that the rise in hate crimes is akin to Germany and Europe in 1939. But we can take solace in knowing that this isn’t 1939 all over again, and that we learned lessons from the past. The difference today is the vast network of organizations, institutions, local, state, and federal agencies and laws that work with minority groups to defend them and uphold their rights. In Houston, the Secure Community Network (SCN) patrols the Jewish community in ways that are familiar to us and in ways that are unseen. According to their website, “SCN is the official safety and security organization of the Jewish community in North America.” Their mission is “to ensure the safety, security, and resiliency of the Jewish people.”

Ideally, SCN should be unnecessary in a land of freedom and minority rights. But when the world struggles it looks for scapegoats. History never fails to point its proverbial finger at the Jewish people first. SCN is a real and effective tool against hate aimed at Jewish communities. There’s no substitute for personal attention to one’s own safety and whereabouts, but we can feel less fearful when we approach Jewish institutions, such as Congregation Beth Israel, the ERJCC, and Alexander Jewish Family Service. Though SCN doesn’t patrol places where we might gather to eat or play, we don’t have to be alone on Shabbat and holidays, and we don’t have to avoid special programs and events that invite us to be with friends and community members in Jewish institutions.

Many things have changed forever, but “Never Again” continues to be the watchword of a faithful and fearless community. True, “Never Again” means that we won’t have an open-door policy in the synagogue and other Jewish institutions. But it’s also true that “Never Again,” still means that we won’t witness the destruction of our people or other minorities because we weren’t prepared. Today, we are wise to hate and those who bear it.

Pause to breathe deeply and reflect on the tragedy in Pittsburgh. Let the name Robert Bowers be blotted out and forgotten while we lift up the names of these righteous souls. May their names be remembered for the deeds they did and the faith they honored. 

Joyce Fienberg                                  David Rosenthal
Richard Gottfried                               Cecil Rosenthal
Rose Mallinger                                   Bernice Simon
Jerry Rabinowitz                                Sylvan Simon
Daniel Stein                                       Irving Younger
                                                      Melvin Wax


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