Delivered by Floyd Thompkins on Sunday, October 28, 2018 at an interfaith vigil held in Tiburon’s Kol Shofar in response to the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.
When you are born into a group of people who have been scapegoated and used throughout history for the justification for political and social violence we are always, sadly, ready for such sad events, as are the reasons for our gathering tonight at Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon, CA. As we go about our days and enjoy the bright lights of life’s great joyful events – births, weddings, baptisms, bar and bat mitzvahs, there is a shadow of racism and anti-Semitism always at the edge of the light of our lives, lingering in our minds, ready to invade our joy and shatter our sense of safety and security.
Therefore at Passover meals, Sunday dinners, family reunions, and our community gatherings, we tell the stories of genocide and attempted historical annihilation of our children and grandchildren. As we gather in the southern home church grounds, we look up and wonder upon how many of these trees have our predecessors hung for crimes they did not commit. As Jews traverse the highways and roads of Europe with its towering cathedrals and castles, they wonder how many of their parents and grandparents passed these structures of silence and acquiescence as they were transported to gas chambers and concentration camps.
This history and this reality are always present. Through popular media and whispered tales told in segregated spaces of social media the language and symbols of anti-Semitism and racism continue to be perpetrated. So, we wonder:
Yes, there are others who have born the brutality of hatred. Their questions are no less poignant and vexing. The trail of tears of native Americans. The violence and beheading done to Muslims around the world. The ethnic cleansing of western Europe. The internment of Japanese Americans. Many other atrocities of human cruelty and brutality beg the question, “Why do such things happen?” Indeed, we all wonder about such things. Nonetheless, the repetitive and persistent nature of these actions towards us makes us uniquely wonder about the targeted evils of racism and anti Semitism.
Why do these attacks occur in every generation? Why are they becoming encoded in the DNA of our culture and our tradition? They are changing our very notion of God and justice. It is therefore a particularly mean and disturbing thing when our churches and synagogues are bombed or we are attacked. In Pittsburgh and in Charleston people were simply meeting and praying together. What is it that so irritated evil and agitated hatred that those consumed of such things could not help but break in to destroy those simply worshipping?
Why are we so dangerous that people believe that we must die? What does evil know about our strength that we have taken for granted?
When we gather in worship, we affirm that our lives are not a random biological accident. Rather our lives are miracles given from one generation to next with a purpose to make us all better. When we gather for worship, we affirm that we are the expression of a kind and powerful force of the universe that calls us to reimagine our community and replenish our hope in every generation. When we read the stories of our sacred texts of resiliency, resurrection and responsibility, we create an expectation of a destiny for humanity that is far more expansive than just a present reaction to our current circumstances. Churches and Synagogues deconstruct the notion that faith is only about a personal search for individual fulfillment. Community worship changes the pronouns of our faith from “me and my” to “us and we.”
We worship in community
to serve a community
in order to create a community
and there, in these activities, we find the God who is greater than all of our communities.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said “What is a religious person? A person who is maladjusted; attuned to the agony of others; aware of God’s presence and of God’s needs; a religious person is never satisfied, but always questioning, striving for something deeper, and always refusing to accept inequalities, the status quo, the cruelty and suffering of others.”
When we worship, we come to discover that we have been chosen and called. That is what is such an anathema to evil. Evil counts on people believing themselves to be small, disconnected and discounted. Yes, our humanity gives us the gift of choice to do better, be better, and help others to become better. We are chosen because we are gifted, simply by our humanity, with the ability and responsibility to choose to do good and stop evil.
It is the worshippers that create the capacity to believe, the narrative of hope and the irrational passion to sacrifice our lives for others whom we do not know. Worship is a communal activity that absorbs death and reinterprets its impact in the mission and acts of the lives of those who remain It has been just a few hours since evil struck down the lives of the worshippers; now, you and I are in a synagogue in Tiburon filled with people from all faith traditions seeking to declare that Love Lives here in Marin County.
In just a few hours after the worshippers were struck down donations have poured into HIAS, the very immigrant organization that the shooter referenced as the final irritant for his decision to attack the Tree of Life Synagogue.
So, I say let us mourn – yes! But also, let the worshippers arise!
Today I say the call to worship that I placed on my Facebook page and used in worshipping this morning:
Leader: With heavy hearts and raised fist we approach the places of worship in perplexity, anger and bewilderment. We bring our questions, accusations and affirmations to throw at your feet without any fear that you would be offended or surprised. You have made us and you know us.
People: Heal the families of the suffering. Uplift the community of the hurting. Renew the vision of those who seek justice. Let us not return hatred for hatred. Rather, build an altar of resiliency and resolve in us and around us. We have brought nothing to worship but our hope. You will have to supply the wood and the fire. Otherwise we may sacrifice our love on the alter of hatred and retribution.
Together: Let a holy roar arise among your people. Drown out the voices of accusation and blaming. Uplift the voices of the righteous indignation. Let a praise erupt from the bowels of grief and shatter the silence that the shooters and bombers tried to impose. Let the people of God boldly and unapologetically praise the God that calls us to rise in faith and declare our resolve –