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Sleeplessness in Seattle: Responding to the Events in Pittsburgh

The atrocity at the Tree of Life Synagogue this past Shabbat shocked me to the core. It appears to have shocked many others judging from the turnout at the vigil held at Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Seattle on Monday, October 29th, 2018.  The sanctuary reached a capacity of 2000, but the line appeared to hold two or three thousand more. Everyone was accommodated as the rest of us gathered outside in front of the synagogue for a concurrent vigil to remember the fallen in Pittsburgh.  In my thirty years as a rabbi in the Seattle community, I have never seen a crowd this size for an event hosted by the Jewish community.  Here is a video of a short portion of the outdoor vigil.  Parallel Outdoor Vigil for the Victims of the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue in Seattle.

The vigil was very moving.  Short speeches were complemented with songs in Hebrew and in English.  The Governor of Washington State, Jay Inslee, spoke movingly and received huge applause.

I noticed that most of the people around me could not sing the Jewish songs. The song leaders appeared to realize this and began to teach the words of songs like Hineh Mah Tov.  I realized as I looked over the throngs of faces that most of the people gathered were not Jewish.  The place was filled with panim hadashot-new faces of concerned Seattlites who came to express solidarity with the Jewish community.  My Israeli friend who accompanied me to the vigil was astonished by the presence of so many people from the community.  The narrative she learned growing up in Israel was "Am Levadad Yishkon" , a people that dwells alone.  (Numbers 23:9)

We are not alone.  Many many people here and beyond realize that the events in Pittsburgh represent a dangerous trend.   Jews in America are woven into the fabric of a society that at its best is tolerant and respectful of difference.  The great crisis of this moment is the chaotic and powerful forces that are undermining this tolerance. The destabilizing forces start at the top, with a president who is  not careful with his words, who seems to have no abiding interest or capacity for bringing people together over the mounting incitements that are occurring over his watch.

Last night's huge vigil inspires and reminds me that we have many allies and partners. We are not the only ones vulnerable to hatred and violence. We need to work together with all communities who will stand for tolerance and the protections of minorities and refugees.  I am inspired to renew my efforts for this purpose. I hope you are as well.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg