Eleven Jews were executed yesterday. Their crime? Sanctifying G-d’s name in a synagogue during a Shabbat morning prayer service. It’s shocking, horrific and heartbreaking, but unfortunately not unexpected by the Jewish Community.
For the past two decades, Jewish centers across North America have been beefing up their security measures and ensuring that their buildings are secure. They have turned friendly, welcoming institutions into fortresses with guards and locked doors, cameras and lights. Jewish schools have become prisons with advanced technological security measures and children forbidden from leaving the building for lunch all in the name of security.
These measures are unfortunately needed in a society that values secularism and G-dlessness over respect for the moral values and religious beliefs of others. A society that encourages the belittling of those who believe, buoyed by “comedians” like Bill Maher who fan the flames of religion hatred.
America itself values patriotism over religionism insisting that their immigrants join the melting pot of Americanism over whatever folly belief they bring from the homeland. There is a tolerance to religion, but it is mostly lip service with an underlying tone of mistrust and a disingenuous ‘we welcome you’ approach. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the people don’t necessarily agree.
After the horrific attacks of 9/11, many Americans across the land stood up and opposed the building of a Mosque in lower Manhattan. Granted, the terrorists were radical Muslims hell-bent on destroying the American way of life, but does that mean that all Muslims and Mosques are bad? In America’s mind yes. The Patriot Act, openly touted by then President George W. Bush, as a law to quash the spread of radical Islam, not many stood against it, giving up their liberties and freedoms and allowing the Government to spy on them, unchecked, in the name of security and “freedom”.
We tend to do that, give up our freedom to live in security, it’s a trade off. Is it worth it? I think so, I think living in security is better than living free, especially when I know there are nutcases in the world who hate and would love to eliminate me and my people. I see it on Facebook all the time, the veiled insults that mask the true underlying Jew hatred that some people post. The visceral hatred expressed when talking about politics or religion. It’s shocking that attacks like the one in Pittsburgh don’t happen more often. The level of hate in America (and Canada by extension) is astounding.
Consider this, the newly elected Government of Quebec, one of the largest Provinces in Canada, has made it clear that one of the first things on its agenda is the banning of religious garments worn by people in the public service. The rationale behind such a ban is that public servants serve the Government and Government has to remain religiously neutral. Sounds reasonable at the surface, but then the Government doubled down and started naming specific garments that they would ban, mostly Muslim woman garments. Suddenly a proposed law became racist and now the newly formed Government is tainted with racism that they will never be able to shake.
The shocking part of the story, however, is that the current Government was elected with this law as one of the primary goals in their platform. They were open about it, clear about what they wanted to do and were still elected by the majority of the Province. That only goes to prove the underlying racism and fear of religion that is inbred into the population, that kind of mistrust comes from years of living under the church, but also from the attitudes and the cues sent by consecutive governments who have made it clear that immigrants who are different from the rest of Quebeckers are not welcome in Quebec.
In January of 2017, the message rang loud and clear when a Quebec born terrorist walked into a Mosque in Quebec City and opened fire killing six worshipers. The attack was condemned by everyone, religious leaders of all religious denominations joined in a prayer vigil and hosted commemorations. Each one knowing that if it could happen to the Muslims, it could happen to them. Security was again beefed up at religious institutions.
The list goes on and on, religious intolerance is not uncommon, not unexpected and not unknown. For Jews, who have been murdered for centuries in their houses of worship, the news of another synagogue murder is horrific, heartbreaking, but not unexpected.
Yesterday, Shabbat morning, when news started spreading that there was a synagogue shooting in North America, I heard a group of young teens talking in a local synagogue. One expressed fear that this kind of violence could happen here and questioned if maybe he should go home and be safe. Another scoffed and pointed out that there was a security guard outside and people inside were safe “because he was watching out for us”. Another said, “if we go home, we let the terrorists win. I will not let them win. I’m not going anywhere; my synagogue is my home, and nobody is going to tell me to leave my home.” They all reluctantly nodded, sat down and continued what they were doing.
The last boy made me proud. He got it. We can build fortresses, we can build walls and put up cameras and lights and hire many eyes to watch out for us. At the end of the day, if a terrorist wants to kill, a terrorist will kill. The boy had it right, synagogue is our home, it’s where we meet to pray, to sing, to laugh and to cry. Nobody can take it away from us and nobody can force us to leave.
Not the Greeks, not the Romans, not the Nazis, not the Muslims, not the Christians, who over history have tried. We are resilient, we are tough and we are believers. G-d is protecting us.
While we collectively mourn the eleven dead in Pittsburgh, don’t let their deaths be futile. They died because they attended synagogue, we should live by attending synagogue. Live their legacy, show the Jew haters that they can’t win, they will never win, attend synagogue with no fear, come home, you are always welcome.
Howie Silbiger is the host of The Howie Silbiger Show, heard Sundays from 7-9pm on www.truetalkradio.com and Political Hitman heard Tuesdays at 11:58 pm on www.israelnewstalkradio.com