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A time for healing, prayer and remembrance Congregation Kol Ami leader on anti-Semitism

Rabbi Denise L. Eger is the founding Rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, a longtime LGBTQ activist and the immediate past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

I didn’t think my heart could break into smaller pieces but the Oct. 27 mass murder at a synagogue in Pittsburgh during Sabbath morning services has left me crying and my heart in shards. I am scared for America. Tree of Life synagogue is a vibrant place on Saturday morning, hosting three different congregations. It is in the heart of Squirrel Hill, a leafy neighborhood in Pittsburgh, where the Jewish community is centered. But it is a diverse neighborhood as well, with lots of different ethnic and religious groups. Mr. Rogers’ home is a mere few blocks away from the synagogue. Eleven people murdered in cold blood as they sang of peace and welcomed a new baby into the covenant of his ancestors

and many people injured including six police officers. What was supposed to be an uplifting morning worship service turned into one of the bloodiest mass murders in a house of worship. The murderer, now in custody, is a vociferous anti-Semite whose social media pages is filled with anti-Semitic screed, brought his AK47 into Tree of Life Synagogue and opened fire. He told police “All Jews must die.” Anti-Semitism is real. It’s always been here in the United States. But since Donald Trump’s ascension to politics and the presidency, his rhetoric has given new permission to the anti-Semites to air their ugly lies and untruths about the Jewish people and the Jewish community and foster violence and murder. The rise of the American Nazi party, right wing hate groups like the Proud Boys, and other right-wing extremists have used anti-Jewish code words in their materials, rallies, and publications. Fox News commentators, the president and his cronies have picked up on those words as he tries to signal his base that all those who aren’t white straight Christian Americans have no place in the good ole’ US of A. And there is growing anti-Semitism on the left, as well. Jews long part of coalitions to welcome the stranger, stand with the poor, march for civil rights for brown and black people, and our LGBTQ community have been increasing told you are not welcome. The Jewish community has been a part of and shared in the suffering, been victims of violence and exclusion along with

other minorities in America. Anti-Semitism is a cancer eating away at our society. It is rising here and in Europe. In Los Angeles County this past year, 72 percent of all hate crimes were directed at the Jewish community The shooting that Saturday, coupled with the increase in vandalism of synagogues with swastikas, Jewish community bomb threats, online anti-Jewish poison and Nazis marching through the streets of Charlottesville. Virginia and other places with menacing chants like “Blood and Soil” (which were the chants of Nazi is Germany during the 30’s and 40’s) and “Jews will not replace us” has the Jewish community on high alert. And it should have everyone of good conscience on high alert as well. Each day of the hatred, the targeting, the code words that for those in the know are AntiSemitic in origin, activates the trauma we hold in our Jewish communal psyche. Words matter. And these words of hatred are leading to actions. The environment of hate fueled by Fox News, the president’s rhetoric and the deep divisions between red and blue America is stoking this violence. We are already watching as the government locks up innocent refugees and their children who are escaping the drug lords and violence in their home countries. We see the mass incarceration of black and brown people by law enforcement while white people get away without conviction for the same crimes. The erosion of our civil rights and the purposeful disenfranchisement of

voters is a blatant reminder of the tactics of dictators. We see the policies of the administration trying to erase LGBTQ people and our civil rights. Attacks on the free press and targeting of journalists who try to report the truth and point out the hypocrisy of the administration’s policies have all the markings of a government that is no longer by the people, for the people. Our challenge is to cross the lines of identity politics and join together to defeat at the ballot box those who espouse such heinous bigotry that fuels and inflames the angry backlash of the MAGA crowd. Only by going to the ballot box can we defeat the UnAmerican and Unpatriotic thread that is Trumpism. As a rabbi, my ethical teachings in the Torah are built around two key ideals: First, that all people are created in the Divine image regardless of our race, or gender, or sexual orientation or gender expression or nationality or religion. We are all reflections of the Force that Sustains the Universe. And I also turn to this phrase: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” For in my neighbor, I see the Divine and all that is holy. If only we would live by these maxims and truths we could strengthen each other, lift each other and pray for the best for our neighbor. These teaching help build empathy for one another. This is the America I once believed in and hoped for. I remain committed to working for it to once again. Let’s start changing America by loving each other enough to care for one another and by getting out to vote!

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