What good is religion in a world torn apart by violence?
Eighty years ago tonight, an attack on Jews and on Judaism occurred across Germany. “The rioters destroyed hundreds of synagogues, many of them burned in full view of firefighters, the German public looted more than 7,000 Jewish-owned businesses. Jewish cemeteries became a particular object of desecration in many regions. Almost 100 Jewish residents in Germany lost their lives in that violence.” Tonight marks Eighty years since Kristallnacht...
Last year in our country, anti semitic incidents rose almost 60% from the previous year (2016-2017). Our Jewish Community Centers persistently received bomb threats; our cemeteries... where we lay our loved ones to rest...vandalized. Increasing security across Jewish communities has become commonplace.
According to the Anti Defamation League, in 2017 and 2018, there have already been over 3,000 incidents of extremism or anti-Semitism in the United States.
The past few weeks have been especially painful for the Jewish community. Across the country we have metaphorically linked arms, as if to say to the world: we are not going anywhere. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.... The chain reaction of evil -- hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars -- must be broken.”
It is tempting to give in to the monotony of life and allow this shooting to become a memory of the past, as many other attacks on vulnerable populations have. As most of us probably know by now, this past Wednesday night, 12 people were senselessly murdered in a bar in California. That is 23 innocent people who lost their lives in less than two weeks. We can not allow ourselves to become desensitized to this type of vicious crime. Our Jewish community will stand tall, alongside our many faith partners. We will not allow ourselves to succumb to the fear that they want to instill in us. We must continue to stand up against violence. And not just violence against Jews, but violence against all people.
Martin Niemöller famously said:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me.
Unfortunately, today is not so different. When we see something, it is our collective obligation to say something. We must call out what is wrong and broken in the world, and demand that our leaders do the same.
Torah teaches, V’ahavta Leracah Camocha; you shall love the other as yourself. We refer to this quote often in Jewish tradition, because it is the most repeated commandment in the entire Torah; but just because we say it, does that mean we are truly living it? Ask yourself, how are you loving “the other” today, this week, this year? Right now our community is in fight or flight mode. And I hope that each of you here tonight chooses to fight. I hope that each of us makes a conscious effort to stand up for the most vulnerable in our midst. To reach out and love each and every one of them the way we wish to be loved, in this painful time. I hope that we each personally assume the responsibility of this ancient, yet extremely relevant teaching. V’ahavta Leracah Camocha; you shall love the other as yourself.
It is common in times of tragedy to doubt our faith. Some may even ask themselves, what good is my Judaism, what good is religion if it can’t keep horrible things like this from happening?
So, I would like to share an old Jewish tale with you that might help answer that question.
One day, a soap maker went to the rabbi in town and asked her if she was available to talk. He had a question that had been pressing on him his for as long as he could remember. The rabbi suggested they take a walk.
On this walk, the soap maker said to the rabbi, “There is something I cannot understand. We have had religion for thousands of years. But everywhere you look there is still evil, corruption, dishonesty, injustice, pain, hunger, and violence. It appears that religion has not improved the world at all. So I ask you, what good is it?”
The rabbi says nothing at first. They continued walking until she noticed a child playing in the mud. Then the rabbi said, “Look at that child. You say that soap makes people clean, but see the dirt on that little one. What good is soap? With all the soap in the world, over all these years, the children are still filthy. I wonder how effective soap is, after all!”
The soap maker protested, “But, Rabbi, soap cannot do any good unless it is used!”
“Exactly,” replied the rabbi. “Religion cannot do us any good unless it is used.”