President Trump with Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow
President Trump bows his head as Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow of Indianapolis prays for the Pittsburgh victims. Image from White House video

By Rabbi Michael Berk

I’m watching responses to the terror attack on the Jews at Sabbath services in Pittsburgh. Officials and politicians are expressing their shock and disbelief at such a despicable act of hatred.

It makes me think about the look on my mother’s face when she heard the news about the death of the Israeli Olympic athletes at the hands of Arab terrorists. I remember that she was not shocked or surprised. She looked sad. Sad that, once again, Jewish blood was spilled at the hands of Jew haters. The look etched on her face was the look of a thousand generations of Jews who know that it’s not surprising that people hate them. It’s sad and painful.

So Jews really are not so surprised that something like what happened in Pittsburgh could happen. It’s happened to a lot to Jews throughout history. Hating Jews is one of the oldest hatreds on earth. Even in America, where Jews have been safer than anywhere else, hatred of Jews survives, and today, it seems like it’s flourishing, as anger and hatred are growing all over our nation.

For 2,000 years Jews have wondered how to move on past moments of tragedy like today’s. How is it possible to go on? The Psalmist was one of the first to express our sadness at a moment of Jewish tragedy. He put it this way:

By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept
When we remembered Zion.
(Psalm 137: 1)

What confounds historians and, frankly, Jew haters, is that Jews always knew that somehow they had to move on. They had to get up from the banks of that river and continue with life. They did that, confident that God’s love and covenant were still intact.

This resilience is one of the greatest miracles in human history. We got up after each blow, brushed ourselves off, put one foot in front of the other, and moved on. And we managed to live life joyfully. We gave the world hope by staying alive and thriving. (Is it hard to understand, in this context, what the State of Israel means to Jews? It’s the ultimate answer to the world: thank you very much; we’ll take care of ourselves now.)

This has been a horrible week in America. Its theme was hatred. We witnessed the most massive assassination attempt on American political leaders in our history. And on this weekend, a terrorist strikes Jews at prayer and mass murder is the result.

I don’t care what your politics are, decency demands that you acknowledge things have gotten out of hand in America. We can’t continue the way we are — demonizing those we disagree with. Political rhetoric is out of control and dangerous.

If you support President Trump, you are in the best position to speak up loudly and with great clarity and call him on the horrible, mean, language that he uses so freely. There are too many hate-filled crazies out there listening to him. He must be told by his supporters that enough is enough and that he is the best one in this country to call a halt to the vitriol that fills the airways and to set an example for others to aspire to. That would be presidential.

But we all have to accept responsibility for what’s going on. We all have to be extra careful about how we treat others; how we speak of others. No more jokes about minorities or women. No more words of hatred against Muslims and refugees. Enough is enough. How much blood needs to be shed before we get it?

Michael Berk is the senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel, the largest Jewish congregation in San Diego and the oldest in Southern California.