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Reflections on Tree of Life Synagogue Tragedy

Dear Friends,

Today a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Eleven worshipers were killed. This was anti-Semitism, an act of hate directed at Jewish people.This news triggers so many layers of emotion for me: sadness, horror, outrage, fear, determination. I hope my reflections may be helpful as you acknowledge what this may trigger for you.

I start with sadness. Eleven people were killed. Each of them has people who love them, whose lives will be forever changed by this devastating loss. Each of them had gifts to offer our world--and the world is now a poorer place. We grieve for them, for their loved ones, for our world.

Every mass shooting is horrifying; for me, there is a particular horror evoked by a shooting in a house of worship. My own church sanctuary is, for me, a safe place, where we seek to welcome every person as a beloved child of God. I trust the worshipers at Tree of Life synagogue have a similar experience. It is a blatant affront to everything we hold dear to have a sacred space invaded by hatred--to have that that spirit of openness and trust violated.

There is also a particular horror evoked by an act of violence so clearly directed against the Jewish community. We know the history of anti-Semitism in our world--expressed in pogroms and expulsions and ultimately in the Holocaust. Acts of violence directed at the Jewish community are intended to trigger the memory of that horrifying history.

We don’t know yet whether this gunman acted alone; we do know that his actions are part of something much bigger than a single hate-filled man. I am outraged by all the forces that enabled his hate: hate groups that have experienced a resurgence in recent years; hate speech by people with power to shape our public discourse; social media that amplifies extreme voices and discourages in-depth conversation; a culture of isolation and despair.

Mass shootings awaken our awareness of how vulnerable we all are. Sometimes that makes me afraid. What makes me more afraid is that we will respond to this act of terror by building walls and arming guards. Of course we need to take reasonable precautions to protect one another and our loved ones. In the end, our security depends on our courage to reach out, to build bridges of trust and community.

My final response to this horrifying act of terror is determination. At the heart of Open Spirit is a commitment to build those bridges of trust and community. What we do is more important today than ever. More than ever, we need to come together. We need to stand with the Jewish community in Framingham and around the world. We need to inspire one another to find the courage to say no to hatred and fear. We need to listen deeply to one another, honoring our different perspectives, celebrating our common humanity, and creating a new kind of community.

Out of our sadness, our horror, our outrage and our fear, may we claim our determination.

Peace, Debbie

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