Friday, May 3rd, 2019
28 Nisan 5779
This has been somewhat of a surreal few days for the San Diego Jewish community. From Pittsburgh to Sri Lanka, over the past few months we have heard about attacks on houses of worship. While we gathered together and mourned with faith communities around the world, the attacks still felt distant and far away. We felt vulnerable, but deep down; many of us believed that it couldn’t happen here, to us, in San Diego. But this past Shabbat, those attacks hit much closer to home, when a gunman attacked the Chabad in Poway. My heart goes out to Lori Gilbert-Kaye’s family, to Rabbi Goldstein, and to all those who were directly affected by the attack.
Saturday morning, was terrifying. As we were concluding our services, I was flagged down from the back of our sanctuary by a member of our maintenance team; we were told that police were on their way and that we needed to secure the perimeter of our building immediately. All we knew at that time was that there was an active shooter at a synagogue in San Diego. As we quickly ushered all of the people and children, including my two year old son, inside from the courtyard and off of the playground, we had very little information. At first we were locked down, but as details of what transpired quickly unfolded, it became clear we were not in immediate danger. The police encouraged us to leave and shut down our building.
As I do every Shabbat, I walked to Synagogue. I remember the conversation that ensued with my wife, about whether or not we felt safe walking home, and if we did, whether or not I should take off my kippah. Would walking home from synagogue, wearing my kippah, publicly identifying myself as a Jew, put me and my family at risk? Could this really be a question that I was asking myself, in America, in the 21st century? Were we overreacting? Maybe. Was it worth the risk?
The past few days have been unsettling. The entire San Diego community has been encapsulated by a fog of malaise. Monday was Lori Gilbert-Kaye’s funeral; there have been multiple community vigils, gatherings, and countless pastoral conversations with people trying to make sense of that which is incomprehensible. One particular interaction I had was with a member of my community who is a Holocaust survivor. She was crying. She said she felt like she was back in Europe, in 1939. They ignored the warning signs then, she said, we cannot ignore the warning signs now.
I don’t want to agree with her. Tonight begins Yom Hashoah, when we remember the millions who were tragically slaughtered in the Holocaust. We honor the memories of those senselessly murdered by the Nazis, by proclaiming “Never Again.” But here we are, again. Anti-Semitism is alive and well in this country, and throughout the world, and we cannot ignore it. We need to deal with it, we need to confront it, and we need to combat it, in all of its forms. We will not be intimidated, we will not hide who we are, and we will continue to live our lives in accordance with Jewish values and traditions.
Yesterday morning, I was in the supermarket, I was stopped by a woman who asked me if I was Jewish – I was wearing my kippah. With tears streaming from her eyes, she gave me a hug and said she was sorry. Earlier today, I had a similar interaction with a man at the gas station. These interactions, as well as the community vigil the other night where we were close to 5,000 strong, remind me that while there is a lot of hate in this world, there is so much more love. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, one of the most influential and celebrated Rabbis of the 20th century once said “If we destroy ourselves and the world due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love.”
It may feel as if the world is crumbling around us due to baseless hatred. But it is our job, and as Rabbi Kook suggests, it is our responsibility to rebuild it with acts of love. Through the many acts of love that we as a community have experienced over the past few days, I am hopeful that we can rebuild our world, a better world, one in which never again, is now.
I want to thank the hundreds of people who have reached out to me, my family and our community, with concern, with love, and with support. I want to thank the San Diego Police Department for quickly coming to offer us help. Their continued presence around our building has been reassuring and helpful.
And finally, I would like to invite all of you, to join us for services this Shabbat, as a Shabbat of Solidarity. We will be celebrating our Torah School graduates. As always, our services are open to the entire community. We will have security.
Rabbi Josh Dorsch