“Our world is imperfect, and so we respond with hope.
Our world is full of darkness, and so we respond with light”
– Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesne
Our ancient Prophets taught:
“Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears: let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’” — Joel 3:10
“And God shall judge between many peoples, and God shall decide all that concerning mighty nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” — Micah 4:3
The ploughshare is often used to symbolize creative tools that benefit humanity, as opposed to destructive tools of war, symbolized by the sword, a similar sharp metal tool with an opposite use.
And yes, we have been assaulted by a deadly sword. The aftermath of violence and hatred witnessed over the weekend in Charlottesville, VA, still weighs heavily on our minds and in our hearts. A young woman was killed. Many others were injured, some in serious or critical condition.
As Americans, many of us have been feeling ashamed, scared, and outraged. What we witnessed in Charlottesville last Friday and Saturday was more than alarming. I was sick to my stomach to witness sights I was hoping to never see again: crazed faces of men and women come together to raise their one arm in the Nazi salute, to yell slogans of hate, represented by groups of white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, and neo-Nazis.
I never thought that in this lifetime, in this country, as a free Jewish American Israeli woman I would have to witness such pictures that used to haunt and horrify me as a child, sending me to bed with night terrors and sheer panic. Year after year my generation of young Israelis of the 60’s and 70’s had to watch those photos from Nazi Germany, with the added caption: “Never Again! Never Again!” And I never thought I would have to watch these same photos, again, here in America, after working so hard to become its citizen.
As AJC’s CEO David Harris (coming soon to Temple Beth Tikvah!), so eloquently wrote in his heartfelt plea to President Trump:
“Mr. President, precisely at such moments of national tragedy and, yes, definition, your voice becomes essential. Others cannot substitute for you. You are our leader, you set the tone, and you have an incomparable bully pulpit. We … urge you to send a strong message to these extremist groups that their endorsement is not welcome…It was abundantly clear that at least some of these racists, anti-Semites, and homophobes came to Charlottesville looking for trouble….Just as what occurred so tragically in other American places – from Fort Hood to Charleston, from Boston to Oklahoma City, and the list goes on – the full force of the law, coupled with the moral leadership of our elected officials and the coalition of conscience of civil society, must always be our resolute answer…..”
And Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner who represents the Reform Movement to Congress and the administration as the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism wrote:
“As I write this, our Interfaith council is working across lines of difference to coordinate an interfaith response to the violence in Charlottesville that calls for constructive solutions to the hatred and vitriol dividing our nation. The clergy and lay leadership of our Urgency of Now campaigns are organizing across North America to expand our network of Reform congregations working together for social justice…We are constantly identifying and training passionate new leaders to help us more effectively and efficiently build the world we want—one driven by wholeness, justice and compassion.”
I will end my note to you, my beloved Temple Beth Tikvah members, with a poem, which I personally find incredibly powerful, written by Rabbi Michael Adam Latz. It was inspired by a poem called “First They Came” written by German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), which describes the spineless German intellectuals following the Nazis rise to power. It is usually read during Holocaust Memorial services.
First they came for Trans-people and I spoke up
Because God does NOT make mistakes!
They came for the African Americans and I spoke up—
Because I am my sisters’ and my brothers’ keeper.
And then they came for the women and I spoke up—
Because women hold up half the sky.
And then they came for the immigrants and I spoke up—
Because I remember the ideals of our democracy.
And then they came for the Muslims and I spoke up—
Because they are my cousins and we are one human family.
And then they came for the Native Americans and Mother Earth and I spoke up
Because the blood-soaked land cries and the mountains weep.
They keep coming.
We keep rising up.
Because we Jews know the cost of silence.
We remember where we come from.
And we will link arms,
Because when you come for our neighbors, you come for us—and THAT just won’t stand.
Let us move forward together with resolve, solidarity, and hope. With love, resolve and encouragement.
Rabbi Meeka Simerly, August 2017