Last week over 1,200 Rockland residents of every sex, race and creed came together in response to the horrific attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
We all had different reasons for attending that vigil. Some to reflect, some to mourn, some to find a place for the anger, others to feel a sense of belonging during a difficult time. As we process through our feelings, the pain, we unite on one clear, unequivocal thought. That an attack on anyone because of their religion is an attack upon all of us regardless of religion.
In the police service where I spent many years, a thought often expressed at the funerals of fallen officers was the hope that their death was not in vain. Now, we search for something that will assure us that these eleven worshipers likewise did not die in vain. That their sacrifice will bring something we can hold on to, something we can move forward with.
My good friend Gary Siepser, CEO of the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Rockland County and a member of the Rockland County Human Rights Commission, stated quite accurately that this was, “an attack upon civilization itself.” I must add that this was an attack on the very bedrock of principles and beliefs our nation was founded on.
We again ask the question we all too often ask at times like this; why? What brought this beast, filled with a hate beyond our imagination, to a holy place with the expressed and murderous action of killing people simply because they were Jewish.
We as a society are suffering from a disease. A cancer that has taken root and is slowly growing. A disease that, unless recognized, treated and abated will bore a hole in our hearts and eventually destroy us. That disease is intolerance.
Too many hear to react and respond; not listen to learn.
Too many have forgotten that god gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.
Too many have fallen into a self-centered trap that if someone else’s position differs from theirs, the other person is wrong. In fact, that person simply has a different perspective, and that difference is what makes us special.
We cannot learn when we do not listen. We cannot coexist when we shout. And too many, including those in positions of power, are acting this intolerance out. That is identified not by political party or profession but rather a failure of those folks to take an honest look at themselves in the mirror.
That rhetoric may not be the direct cause of the violence we saw in Pittsburgh, but it does set us on a path to that vicious circle we know all too well from history. That intolerance creates ignorance, and it is that ignorance that feeds and then gives rise to hate. That type of ignorant hatred produces the inevitable; violence. A hate that gives unstable individuals the warped sense of rationale to commit unspeakable horrors such as what we just saw on a quiet Saturday morning in Pittsburgh.
We have seen that violence go beyond the “one on one” discourse to attacks upon the citadels of our society; government institutions; our guardians of society in law enforcement; to the most cowardly of attacks upon a house of worship where congregants sought peace and connection with God.
As Gary said, “attacks upon civilization itself.” But what can we do? How do we ensure that these victims did not die in vain? We must redouble our efforts to respect others. Confront, educate, and if need be directly reject those who do not. Accept and celebrate the fact that god made each of us unique.
We must stand together as one community and accept the fact that much, much more unites us than divides us. The blood coursing through our veins, the environment we share, the air that we breathe and the dreams we have for our families. And expect that same respect from all our leaders.
The Rockland County Human Rights Department and Human Rights Commission will actively engage and join us in the effort to root out intolerance, hate and violence wherever it rears its ugly head.
Let us never forget that the people of Rockland are great people who work very hard in so many different ways to make this a very special place for ourselves, our families and our neighbors. I thank you for your part in that and look forward to working together with all of you to end intolerance here in Rockland.