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Remarks by Our President

Thank you all for coming tonight to remember the victims of Eitz Chayim ---the Tree of Life -- Synagogue.

Thank you, Rabbi, for leading us in a beautiful service.

Thank you to all of those who worked to organize tonight’s vigil.  In particular, Margaret Rice and Jim Swanson.

Thank you to all the clergy from the many faiths represented here and who participated.

Thank you to our political leaders and candidates who rearranged their schedules three days before an election to show their support.  

Whenever an incident like the one last week occurs we receive a shocking reminder: there  are still people in this country who hate us just because of who we are. And every American Jew wonders what it means.  Is this just a weird, tragic interruption in normal life? Or is it the harbinger of worse to come? History has not been kind.

As an American Jew living in Fredericksburg in the 21st century, I generally feel safe and comfortable in our society.  I have served my country, I feel welcome in our institutions, I pay the same taxes as others, I feel no restrictions. I feel as American as anyone.

However, every Jew is to some degree a student of history.  And I wonder if -- as comfortable as I feel in American society -- am I any more comfortable than a Jew living in Germany in 1930?  Am I more comfortable in my society than a 13th century Spanish Jew?  Jewish history is full of places where we felt safe and accepted, that we were assimilated into a society while retaining our identity, starting when Joseph settled in Egypt and helped save Pharaoh’s realm from famine.  And it has almost never ended well.

So when the murders at Eitz Chayim happen, or when events in Charlottesville happened last year, every American Jew wonders if this is the start of another bad ending.  

I hope the United States of America is better than that; that the same cycle will not happen here.  And I have reason to hope.

To my fellow Jews here tonight, I invite you to look around. Look at the people who are here to mourn murdered Jews and to show support for the Jews of Fredericksburg.   We have never had a bigger crowd in this building. Now, do you think that the gentiles of 13th century Spain or of Germany in the 30’s would have stood with their Jewish community after such incidents? Do you think the official authorities in those lands in those times would fight and protect the Jews of their community as the police did in Pittsburgh and as they do here in Stafford County?  I believe this country is better. That despite the murders at Eitz Chayim Synagogue this country can break the cycle that has tormented Jews for hundreds of years.

To my non-Jewish friends here tonight, I think you for your support.  I hope that when the next shooting occurs, whether it is targeted at African-Americans at a Kroger market outside a church in Kentucky, in a Baptist Church in Texas, a Mosque in NY, a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, or Methodist Bible study in South Carolina, we will be as supportive as you are tonight.    Anti-Semitism may have been around longer, but hate really isn’t that selective.

To all of us here:  If we really think that our country will be different, then we have to do something.  

Those of us here have already done one thing just by being here.   Our presence tonight makes a statement, a good one. We have said Hineini and stepped up as the Rabbi noted.  But it’s not enough. And we feel like we need to do more. No one here seriously thinks our vigil tonight will really change the mind or open the heart of any neo-Nazi, racist, or supremacist.    

If each of us here tonight can find one more thing to defuse this hate  then maybe , possibly, we can see a difference.  How? Through Love, as Reverend Joe stated. Through education, through outreach, through political action, through acts of justice, kindness and mercy.  By using our voices, and use them wisely because words matter. But each of us must find a way to do something explicit and concrete to curb hate and violence in the coming months.  It can seem overwhelming, the enormity of it.

The God of Abraham –to whom most of us pray--does not ask any one of us to individually cure the world’s  violence and hate.

But the God of Abraham demands that each one of us do something to address violence and hate, like we  we saw in Pittsburgh last weekend.

Again, I thank you for your support and respect for those murdered at Eitz Chayim. And on behalf of Beth Sholom Temple, I want to thank you for embracing the Jewish Community of Fredericksburg.  May you have a peaceful evening.

- Robert Jobrack, President of Beth Sholom Temple

Thu, April 18 2024 10 Nisan 5784