Last Shabbat we experienced the worst violence against the Jewish people in American history. In the days that followed, we perhaps received some of the greatest broad-spectrum support for a Jewish community ever. As we move on, ensuring our security is essential, but I believe the love and encouragement that we received from all sides is what we need to focus on and retain as we move ahead.
I just started reading a book called the “The Aleppo Codex”, about the obsession and pursuit of the oldest and purest Bible manuscript. Aleppo, a city in Syria, had a Jewish community going back to biblical times. The community claimed to be there for no less than 3000 years, although it could only be proven going back 2500 years. The Jewish populace was there before the Arabs became Muslims. They could truly call this city their own. But their thousands of years of settlement provide them no privileges on November 30, 1947, the day after Israel became ratified in the U.N. Arab Mobs flooded into the Jewish district, setting fire to synagogues, schools and businesses. Homes were looted, and holy books and artifacts disgraced. The “Crown of Aleppo”, the heirloom, the Codex they guarded diligently for more than a thousand years went up in flames. No one stood up for them. 2500 years of history was over in minutes.
In Aleppo, the Jews had no protection. By contrast, in Pittsburgh 4 American policemen risked their lives to save Jews. Within 15 minutes of the attack, police cars were sent out throughout the whole country to secure synagogues and other Jewish sites.
When I was attacked in 2012, the Rutherford and Bergen County Detectives worked tirelessly for a month until they apprehended the assailants. On the day of a celebratory news conference at the Prosecutors Office, we had organized a gathering in Rutherford, so I couldn’t attend, but I wrote them a letter:
“Anti-Semitism is sadly not a new phenomenon in the annals of world history. But the reaction to it here in America by our protective forces, our politicians, members of the clergy and our fellow neighbors has been very unique. Hate crime is intolerable and unacceptable here. The concern, generosity and sympathy we have received from all across the metropolitan area and the country has been heartwarming. My family and congregation experienced ten minutes of virulent hatred, followed by weeks of outreach and love. Never for a moment did we not feel that the police, the detectives, the prosecutor’s office and our elected officials were not 100% behind us.
While humanity still has much to perfect, it has learned from the past, and we have truly seen the goal of “one nation under G-d, indivisible with liberty and justice for all” fulfilled by those being honored here today. You are a symbol of pride not only for the divisions you work for, but for humanity itself. May G-d continue to bless you all your endeavors.”
At the gathering for Unity and Understanding in Rutherford, we had people from different religions and ethnicities teach about themselves. I represented Judaism saying: “My hopes for this gathering, is for us to see how much we have in common, and to forge unity through greater understanding. At the interfaith clergy meetings, one of the ways I see that we are so much alike is in our shared jokes.
One joke, which tells as much about our congregants, as our institutions, is as follows: Howard asks me, “Rabbi, I’d like to have a Bar Mitzvah ceremony for my dog.” I reply, “I’m sorry Howard, but we just don’t do Bar Mitzvahs for non-humans.” Howard responds, ‘That’s really a shame rabbi, for I was thinking of making a $10,000 donation to the synagogue in my dog’s honor.” I reply to him, “Howard, why didn’t you tell me your dog’s Jewish!”
My peers at the interfaith meeting all laughed and said, “we have the same joke, regarding confirmation …I didn’t know your dog was Christian!” Although we have our differences, most of our essential goals and beliefs are shared.
I then taught about our version of monotheism and so forth… and concluded:
There’s a lot more to say, but we will close on this point. Judaism believes in a future Messianic era, when G-d’s presence will be no longer hidden. In that time the knowledge of G-d will cover the world like the oceans cover the seabeds, and all of humanity will be united to serve G-d together.
This ideological period idea is referenced many times in our Rosh Hashanah, High Holiday prayers, “And so, L-rd our G-d, grant that Your awe be upon all your works, and Your dread be upon all that You have created. Let all works revere You, and all creatures prostrate themselves before You. Let them all form a single band to do your will with a perfect heart. For we know L-rd, that rulership is Yours, strength is in Your right hand and Your name inspires awe over all that You have created.” We have now been privileged to experience a taste of this period. May the unity we have forged here be a predecessor and initiator to that ultimate unity to come.”
Now, six years later, I’m not sure if there will be one messiah figure to unite the world. However, what we saw in Pittsburgh, across the country and at our own Y this week: thousands of people from all faiths and ethnicities coming together in solidarity and support, that is what the Messianic period is about. It wouldn’t have happened a hundred years ago in American nor seventy years ago in Aleppo. There has been tremendous progress.
We mourn and remember those who perished, we keep our eyes out for the haters and improve our security, but we preserve for posterity the outpouring of love and support we witnessed in the past week.