What To Do After a Synagogue Shooting


Hundreds of us poured into church on Sunday with no particular worry for our safety or that of our children. As I walked to church early that morning I thought, What if I were not a priest but a rabbi, on my way not to my church but to my synagogue? I wondered how Jewish parents could get their kids dressed for services and head off for the temple next week as if it were just another Shabbat.

All of us live with a generalized sense of fear these days—every public space has some “active shooter” protocol. But if you are a Jew the threat is not general. It’s particular. For thousands of years your people have been vilified and hunted: that is just a fact of your existence.

On that brief Sunday morning walk to church I felt a strange compunction for how easily I enjoyed my unearned advantage. I get to live my life, go about my Sunday ritual with no real concern, while others must worry simply because of their identity. It was as if I were eating a sumptuous feast at a long table of hungry people. I cannot enjoy my “bounty” while others starve. I cannot enjoy my freedom while others are locked in fear. As Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody’s free till everybody’s free.”

The great temptation for those in the majority is to think, “Well, at least I am ok. At least my children are safe.” It’s time to dust off that poem by Lutheran theologian and pastor, Martin Niemöller, who opposed Hitler in the 30s, ended up in Dachau and was liberated by the Allies.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

If you think things are bad but at least they’re not worse—and you’re waiting till then to speak out—re-read Niemöller.

Everyone has a voice, everyone has influence. The forces of darkness rely on us to conclude that, since we are just “ordinary” citizens, it is futile to do anything. Speak out when you see injustice. Speak out when to do so means conflict and trouble. Speak out even though your protest seems to change nothing.

Elie Wiesel used to tell the story of an old man who would stand on the street corner in a hard bitten neighborhood and tell people to live with compassion, to treat others with respect and honor. He went on like this day after day while the strong preyed on the weak and people lived in fear. Finally a boy said to the old man, “Why do you keep coming out here? No one’s listening to you—nobody cares! Why do you keep speaking to people who ignore you? The old man said, “I used to come out here to change other people. Now I come out here to keep them from changing me.”


3 Responses to What To Do After a Synagogue Shooting
  1. Ellie Massie
    November 1, 2018 | 10:19 am

    Well said. Especially the last line.

  2. Michael
    November 1, 2018 | 12:26 pm

    Amen. Shalom.

Leave a Reply