My family and I have been in Israel throughout the past ten days. I write this note to you recognizing the geographical and cultural distance between Israel and the U.S., and at the same time feeling a closeness, a pull, and a pain that yet again call for connection, for a sense of comfort, of shared purpose, and of community. The events that took place in El Paso and in Dayton this weekend shocked, upset, and saddened me deeply. I have been trying to make sense of them and to consider our role and mission in the face of hate and carnage.
Yesterday I communicated with a number of our clergy colleagues in Dayton, and reached out to Temple Mt. Sinai in El Paso. I offered our colleagues and friends our assistance and support and encouraged them to share their needs with us. Our ongoing connection, solidarity, and shared faith and mission with sister congregations and colleagues throughout the movement are deeply valued and appreciated, and yet they are insufficient. Reacting to the mass shootings, both Senator Brown and Senator Portman also sensed the inadequacy of repeated expressions of solidarity and faith. Senator Brown stated: we know thoughts and prayers are not enough, we have a responsibility to act, and Senator Portman echoed the same sentiment when he recognized these senseless acts of violence must stop. We are experiencing a crisis that biblical authors would refer to as a Makkah, a plague, and must recognize its gravity and extent, its implications, and our roles in addressing it.
On Friday this week, we encourage you to join us for a Kabbalat Shabbat service that will include a special memorial for the victims of the attacks that occurred last weekend. This coming Friday will be the ninth day of Av, a day wherein we commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians, the destruction of the second Temple built on the same site by the Romans approximately five hundred years later, and the single largest and most traumatic expulsion of Jews from any area, region, or state in the pre-modern era, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, which occurred on the very same day (the ninth of Av.) Please join us as we mourn, seek comfort and understanding, and recommit to our mission and purpose as members of this Temple community.
The Jews of this country, the Cleveland community, and our Temple family flourished as American bigotry and hatred and intolerance toward Jews, various ethno-religious minorities, and others declined. The renewed rise of hatred and prejudice, coupled with increasing capacity for violence and bloodshed have brought about both an all-American crisis and a Jewish one. The very foundations of our American dreams and ideals are at stake. We must and will enhance our education and coalition building towards the embrace of diversity, the values of justice, equality, and fairness, and civil discourse. We must also re-dedicate our effort to remind and teach our congregation, community, and allies the lessons of discrimination, persecution, and organized campaigns of violence targeting minorities. At the same time, we must join forces with other leaders of our movement as we seek to curb gun violence. We must do all this together, strategically, and recognize that our mission requires continuous engagement and unfailing commitment. The advancement of our brand of Judaism, the most vibrant, inventive, and diverse throughout Jewish history, depends on it.
I look forward to seeing you, praying with you, and working together to strengthen ourselves and others, and to build the society we dream of for ourselves and our children.
With warm regards,
Rabbi Jonathan Cohen