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Statement on Recent Acts of Violence

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The leadership of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College/Jewish Reconstructionist Communities and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association extend our heartfelt condolences and prayers to the victims and families of the frightening acts of violence that have shaken several of our cities this weekend. Our grief and concern extend throughout St. Cloud, MN, Seaside, NJ, the Chelsea neighborhood of NYC, and in Philadelphia, where innocent people have been targeted and killed or injured, and law enforcement personnel and other first responders have heroically saved lives. As investigators seek information about motives, including possible links to terrorism, we pray for the strength to support our neighbors in need, and for the wisdom to work even harder for a just and peaceful world.

Statement on Hanukkah Antisemitic Attacks

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Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association are heartsick once again to learn of the recent spate of antisemitic attacks against members of the New York Jewish community. Coming during Hanukkah, our holiday of light, hope, and visibility, it is especially painful to think of the fear these attacks instill in all of us. We offer prayers for healing, both physical and spiritual, to the communities of Monsey, New York City, and Jersey City, with special attention to those most recently wounded and their families: Yosef ben Perel, Shlomo ben Vittel, Naftali Tzvi ben Vittel, Naftula Tzvi Ben Gila and Meyer Yehosef ben Vittel. 

We recognize that hate does not arise in a vacuum and does not spread with impunity unless encouraged to do so by those in the highest echelons of power. We call on the Trump Administration and others in power to condemn the rising tide of antisemitism, racism, Islamophobia and all forms of hate immediately and in the strongest way possible.  

We are grateful for the many allies who have reached out to the Jewish community at this time and we are committed to remaining in solidarity with all victims of white supremacy and hatred and with those who are combating these scourges. May the last lights of the Hanukkah festival continue to shine hope, joy and light in this time of increased anxiety and fear.

Statement on Shooting at Chabad of Poway

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Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association send our deepest condolences and wishes of refu’ah shlaymah — full and complete healing — to all who were affected by the shooting at Chabad of Poway, Calif. We are keenly aware that the shooting happened not only on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, and the eighth day of Passover, the Jewish celebration of liberation from oppression, but also on the sixth month anniversary of the terrible shooting in Pittsburgh. We echo and amplify words from Pittsburgh’s Reconstructionist community Dor Hadash, who convened at Tree of Life until October 27, and who reached out to the Chabad community to offer comfort. They wrote: “Our resolve to end hatred and to build a worldwide community of resilience and healing is ever strengthened.”

This has been an escalating year of murderous hate crimes against religious and ethnic minorities in countries across the globe. In each incident, the shooters are fueled by and make references to the previous ones. We are seeing how social media — and, in the US, easy access to semi-automatic weapons — is contributing to the shattering of a centuries-old consensus that all individuals could believe whatever they wanted as long as no harm was done to others. Much harm is being done — to individuals who are killed or injured while at prayer in their houses of sanctuary, to their families who are devastated, to a sense of safety and security that some of us have felt.

We are deeply inspired by the clarity and resolve of our friends in Pittsburgh. Though we may feel helpless or hopeless, we must turn away from despair and toward action. We can each and all take actions to forcefully promote and enact our values at this volatile moment. We can and must put forward a muscular vision of what non-fundamentalist religion looks like. We can and do model how to be deeply particularistic and committed to the Jewish future, and how at the same time to be deeply universalist, and to care about the well-being of our friends and neighbors from other faiths. We must turn inward to ensure that we are adequately secure. And at the same time, we must take care that we also remain oriented to a larger vision of a redeemed and resilient world.

May the Holy One comfort all who need comforting, heal all who need healing and bolster us all to work toward healing and an end to hatred.

Statement on Easter Sunday Bombings in Sri Lanka

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Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association are shocked by and condemn the terrorist attacks carried out on Easter Sunday at multiple churches and other locations in Sri Lanka. With broken hearts, we stand in solidarity with the Christian communities of Sri Lanka, and with people in grief and shock around the world.

That this massacre took place during Easter Sunday and targeted Sri Lankan churches adds to our sense of horror and revulsion. As we stated after the recent terrorist attack against worshippers in two mosques in New Zealand, our sacred times and places are where we build deep connections and power – where we come together in our resilience and our vulnerability. We stand in spiritual and moral unity with our Christian friends and neighbors who have been attacked in this cruelest of manners.

At this time, Sri Lankan officials are identifying two local extremist groups, National Thowheeth Jama’ath and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim, as the parties behind these attacks which have murdered more than 300 people and injured hundreds more. As with the terrorist attacks in Christchurch and Pittsburgh, we are sickened by the violent impact of religiously, racially or nationalistically motivated hate. Our places of worship of all faiths should be places of refuge, compassion and love. Minority groups in every society should be free to practice their religions and cultures without fear.

At this time we do not have reliable information about ways to offer help to the victims and survivors of these attacks. We encourage members of Reconstructionist communities to look to trusted organizations for information about ways to help in the days ahead.

May all who have died be held in God’s love. May all who mourn be held in God’s infinite compassion and healing light. May all who are wounded be blessed with a speedy healing. And may the One who created us all lead us to be better than this.

Jewish Rohingya Justice Network Supports Bipartisan Legislation on Burma

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The American Jewish community stands united against the genocide of the Rohingya people and the persecution of all ethnic minorities in Burma. We applaud the bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate for their moral courage and leadership in introducing powerful legislation that would authorize humanitarian assistance for Rohingya refugees and hold the Burmese military officials responsible for this persecution accountable.

Statement on New Zealand Mosque Attacks

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Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association are horrified by and condemn the terrorist attacks carried out this morning against Muslims in New Zealand. Our hearts are broken and we are shaken. We stand in solidarity with the Muslim communities of the Al Noor and Linwood Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and all who are in shock, grief, and fear everywhere as a result of this devastating news. Reconstructionist synagogues across our movement are already reaching out to their local Muslim communities to express solidarity and to attend Friday community prayers as an act of solidarity. The Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh has launched the New Zealand Islamophobic Attack Relief Fund, and we encourage all who are able to consider donating through their online portal at this link.

That this massacre took place during Jumu’ah (Friday prayers) adds to our sense of shock and revulsion. Our sacred times and places are where we build deep connections and power – where we come together in our resilience and our vulnerability. We stand in spiritual and moral unity with our Muslim friends and neighbors who have been attacked in this cruelest of manners, and we have faith that the healing power of community gatherings of prayer and resilience will give strength and courage to the members of the attacked congregations.

White nationalism is a violent and deadly movement based on a spiritual and moral web of lies and an embrace of weaponized brutality. Today another member of its hateful cult has opened fire on people peacefully at worship in a house of God, targeting a group that has been demonized and targeted by this toxic movement and its allies.

May the One who created us all lead us to be better than this. And may all who have died be held in God’s love, and all who mourn be held in God’s infinite compassion and healing light. May all who are wounded be blessed with speedy healing.

Coming so soon after the massacre of Jewish worshippers by another white nationalist in Pittsburgh, which took the life of a member of our Reconstructionist congregation, Dor Hadash, we are determined that today’s act of terrorism impel us to work together to bring an end to violent xenophobia and religious hatred. We call on the leaders of all faiths and governments to take clear and firm action to renounce white nationalism and xenophobia, and to be models of bridge-building and mutual respect among the diverse peoples of our shared societies.

Finally, we offer this prayer from Hila Ratzabi as a possible reading for Jewish communities at Shabbat services tonight. It is called “How to Pray while the World Burns,” and was written in response to the Pittsburgh Massacre. As we move towards Shabbat, may we be moved to be instruments of lovingkindness, justice, and peace in our broken world.

Statement on the Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre

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Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association mourn the devastating losses that a white nationalist domestic terrorist inflicted upon the Jewish community this past Shabbat morning at Tree of Life - Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh. Included among the dead and wounded are members of our affiliate, Congregation Dor Hadash, which meets there.

Within the Reconstructionist community, we are heartbroken over the death of Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, a widely loved Dor Hadash member and a physician with a warm heart and caring practice. Jerry and his wife, Miri, served Dor Hadash as co-presidents. We offer our deepest condolences to Miri, to Jerry’s mother, Sally, to his siblings and his other loved ones. We also send condolences to Rabbi Sandra Berliner (RRC ‘85), whose cousins, Cecil and David Rosenthal, were among the Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha members who were killed. And to the loved ones of all who were murdered in the synagogue, we offer our profound condolences and our solidarity.    

We ask that everyone add the name of Dan Leger to your healing prayer lists. Dan, a longtime lay leader at Dor Hadash, was shot multiple times and is in serious condition after undergoing several surgeries. His Hebrew name, for the purposes of prayers for healing, is Daniel ben Sarah Miriam. We are holding in our hearts all of Dan’s family and loved ones. Two of his close friends, Rabbi Yitzhak Husbands-Hankin, Rabbi Emeritus of our affiliate in Eugene, Oregon, and Shonna Husbands-Hankin, were visiting the synagogue over the weekend, and they have been staying nearby and praying for Dan’s recovery.

Please also pray for the healing of the four police officers who were wounded as they responded to the calls for help from Tree of Life - Or L’Simcha Congregation. SWAT Officer Tim Matson and three other Pittsburgh police officers were injured in the attack. If the names of the other officers are released, we will pass them along to our affiliated congregations.

We offer gratitude to Rabbi Doris Dyen (RRC ‘13), a Dor Hadash member who has been providing crisis pastoral counseling on the scene, and to all who have taken on the crucial work of providing emotional, spiritual, and practical support to those in need. Rabbi Doris and her husband, Prof. Deane L. Root, were on their way to the synagogue when the attack took place. We wish them strength and serenity of spirit.

We are also extremely grateful to the first responders who, with great bravery and professionalism, rushed to the aid of a synagogue under attack.

We pray for strength and courage for Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, and for all of the staff, lay leaders, and community members at Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha who are devoting their energies to supporting one another at this time.

 

Dor Hadash, National Refugee Shabbat and our Jewish Values

Our Reconstructionist affiliate, Dor Hadash, along with more than 300 other congregations nationwide (including about 30 from our movement), took part on October 20 in National Refugee Shabbat, an initiative organized by HIAS. HIAS is a Jewish-American non-profit organization that provides support and advocacy on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants in need. HIAS began as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and from the 1880s onward, HIAS helped thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms and later, Nazism, as they sought refuge in the U.S. Today, HIAS advocates primarily for non-Jewish refugees and asylum seekers, and they are a target of hate from white nationalists. The shooter, Robert Bowers, attacked HIAS repeatedly on social media, and in a message he posted shortly before the shooting, he “thanked” HIAS for providing a list of synagogues that took part in National Refugee Shabbat. Dor Hadash was listed as a participant in the HIAS initiative.

As a movement, we stand firmly with HIAS, and we believe in the Jewish values that undergird their work on behalf of refugees today, the vast majority of whom are not Jewish. As HIAS’s CEO, Mark Hetfield, often puts it, “At HIAS we used to help refugees because they were Jews. Now, we help refugees because we are Jews.” Amen.

We will not be deterred from our commitment to remember the stranger, to empathize with refugees, and to pursue immigration policies of generosity and compassion towards those who come to our borders seeking asylum or refuge. Our spiritual and moral roots in the journey of Abraham and Sarah, our migrant ancestors, compel us to take this stand. Our formation as a people fleeing the furnace of slavery in Egypt commands us to care for those who seek to escape hellish places today. Our history of forced expulsions, pogroms and genocide gives shape to the empathy in our hearts. We are proud of Dor Hadash’s participation in National Refugee Shabbat, and we will continue to advocate as a movement for our vision of a shared society in which diversity is celebrated and white supremacy defeated.

Of course, regardless of what may have drawn Robert Bowers to Tree of Life - Or L’Simcha Congregation on this past Shabbat, in the end he did not ask for each victim’s views about immigration before he opened fire at them. His reported statements made it very clear that he attacked them because they were Jews.  

We recognize and condemn the white nationalist ideology that the perpetrator embraced – a toxic belief system that demonizes non-white immigrants, hates Muslims, hates people of color, and promotes the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory of a Jewish cabal running things behind the scenes. We call on the Trump Administration to emphatically condemn white supremacy and the white nationalist movement, and to stop, once and for all, demonizing immigrants and using dog whistles to generate hatred towards religious and racial minorities. The white nationalist movement has found encouragement in the language and messages that have been coming from the White House, and as the rabbinic tradition teaches very clearly, words are weapons and they have the power to destroy. We ask people of all political parties to call upon the Trump Administration to stop modeling the language of Otherizing people, the language of “us vs. them,” the language of ridicule and mob anger. One can hold conservative, moderate or progressive views without engaging in any of these damaging and inciting uses of language in the public square. Indeed, the future of America’s viability as a healthy democracy depends upon it.

While raising our voices in prayer and condolences for the victims this latest mass-shooting, we also raise our voices to call for the enactment and enforcement of reasonable gun laws throughout this country that would help prevent such tragedies. There have been almost 300 mass shootings in the United States in 2018.

 

Safety in our Congregations

On a practical note, we share the concern many in the Jewish community are having regarding security at our places of worship and community events. Staff and lay leaders of our affiliates are welcome to join in an online video conference on security and Jewish communities this Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018, at 3 p.m. Eastern / 2 p.m. Central / 1 p.m. Mountain / 12 p.m. Pacific. This webinar has been organized by our friends at the Union for Reform Judaism, and it is co-sponsored by Reconstructing Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and the National Association for Temple Administrators. To sign-up to participate, click here. For those who cannot participate during the live event, there will be a recording and we will make the link available.

We are also discussing security for Convention, which begins Thursday, Nov. 15, and for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association’s Pre-Convention, which begins Wednesday, Nov. 14. We believe that one of the ways we defeat this kind of hateful violence is by gathering with purpose to help build vibrant, progressive Jewish life. We intend to throw our full energies into making Convention as inspiring and energizing as possible, while taking steps to enhance security for all who will be gathering in Philadelphia.

 

Ways We Can Help

Many people are asking what they can do to help. There are a few options. Donations to the Dor Hadash can be made online here. Donations to help all the Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha victims and their families can be made here. A fund has been set up to help the officers who were injured in the synagogue shooting. It’s called the Injured Officers’ Fund, and instructions for how you can donate to it are here.

We know that many of us would like to make phone calls or send emails to offer condolences and moral support, and we also recognize that the next few days are likely to overwhelming for everyone at Dor Hadash. In the meantime, one meaningful action that Reconstructionist communities can take is to send cards and letters, from religious school students and adults, by post. The address is Congregation Dor Hadash, 5898 Wilkins Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15217.

 

Loss, Shock and the Enduring Nature of Hope

This attack has shaken the entire Jewish community, in North America, Europe, Israel and everywhere that Jews live. We urge people who are experiencing trauma, fear, anxiety or other difficulties coping to turn to each other and to trusted and reliable sources of comfort and counsel. Therapists, rabbis, pastoral counselors and friends can help us make our way through. For Reconstructionist rabbis in the field, we know that many of you will be called upon to provide spiritual, emotional, and moral support to community members, and we urge you to also remember to take care of yourselves, reach out to colleagues, or to the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association offices.

We draw strength and hope from the loving outreach that has come to the Jewish community from people of so many faith traditions and walks of life. We are touched by initiatives like “Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue,” which has raised over $100,000 to benefit the victims and their families. In our siddurim, we sometimes sing these ancient words: min ha-meytzar karati Yah, anani va-merkhav Yah. “From the narrow places I called out to the Merciful One; God answered me from a place of expansiveness.” (Ps. 118:5) When we reach across faith lines to support one another, when we stand up for the vulnerable and the rejected, and when we see the Divine image in every human being, we bring into being that expansive, inclusive, healing Divine love. This is how we will survive, and ultimately help America realize the potential of its motto, E pluribus unum, “Out of many, one.”

L’Shalom,

Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D.
President, Reconstructing Judaism
Rabbi Elyse Wechertman
Executive Director, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Assocation
   
Seth Rosen
Chair, Board of Governors, Reconstructing Judaism
Rabbi Seth Goldstein
President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association

 

To read our earlier statements in response to news of the attack, click here and here.

Responding to Today's Tragedy

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All of us at Reconstructing Judaism are still processing the shock, grief and heartbreak of the shooting that took place in Pittsburgh at Tree of Life - Or L’Simcha Congregation, which is also the home of our Reconstructionist affiliate, Congregation Dor Hadash. While we still do not know the names of those who were murdered or wounded this morning, our hearts and souls reach out to all whose lives have been shattered by this horrific anti-Semitic act. With heavy hearts, we mourn the dead and pray for the wounded and the surviving mourners. 

We thank the first responders - law enforcement and emergency medical personnel - and we pray for a complete healing and recovery for the police officers who were wounded in the process of confronting the gunman. We also thank the law enforcement personnel in cities and towns across America who quickly fanned out to many synagogues to protect and reassure their Jewish fellow citizens. We are grateful for the widespread condemnation and the expressions of support and solidarity from so many quarters.

In the face of such deadly, hate-inspired violence, we look to one another for courage and mutual support. We look to one another in our movement, throughout the Jewish community, and throughout our entire society. We turn to one another, and to the Source of All, and we pour out our hearts. “Pour out your heart like water before Adonai,” the Book of Lamentations tells us (2:19). That is the first thing we can do, together, in our congregations, at vigils, and in our opportunities to connect with our neighbors of all faiths and backgrounds. 

And that is what is happening—within our movement and beyond. Suzanne Shanbaum, president of our affiliate Ner Shalom in Cotati, Calif., posted on the affiliate presidents’ listserv today “We are all Dor Hadash.” The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association Facebook group was alive with members tracking down the well-being of all the Reconstructionist rabbis who have emerged out of Pittsburgh and who make their home there now. A member of our affiliate in Eugene, Ore., writes that when she came to Shabbat morning services after hearing the news, she found a local pastor sitting outside the synagogue entrance keeping vigil. And inside the synagogue, a Muslim family had come to services, bringing flowers and condolences. I know that as the days go on, we will hear more and more stories like these.

This is the way we shall overcome. This is the way we will strengthen the bonds of a shared, diverse, vibrant, pluralistic, mutually-respecting, interconnected society. This is how we will build an olam hesed, a world of love (Psalm 89:3).

Karov Adonai l’nishberay lev - God is close to the brokenhearted (Psalms 34:19). Our hearts are broken today. This is the time when we are called to take the Divine love within each of us and share it, with all who mourn, with all who need physical healing, with all who are frightened, with all who are in shock. Let us bring that light and love to one another and to the Jewish community in Squirrel Hill and everywhere. And as Jews, let us open our hearts to receive the love and solidarity that is flowing to us from our neighbors, friends and allies, who see us and love us too. 

Rabbi Deborah Waxman

President, Reconstructing Judaism; Aaron and Marjorie Ziegelman Presidential Professor, RRC

Initial Statement on the Pittsburgh Shootings

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We are shocked and horrified by the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh. Our hearts, support and condolences go out to the community members of the Tree Of Life - Or L’Simcha Congregation, to the community members of our affiliated congregation, Congregation Dor Hadash, who were meeting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and to the people of Pittsburgh.

People should be free from fear everywhere, but especially in sacred places of worship and communal gatherings. Crimes such as these strike at the very fabric of our society and leave all of us feeling more vulnerable.

Along with everyone else, we wait with sadness for the reports from the authorities who have converged there.

Letter of Concern Regarding Human Rights in Burma

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Reconstructing Judaism is among 46 organizations signing onto a letter of concern by Human Rights Watch about Burma’s human rights record, addressed to the US House and Senate Armed Services Committees. 

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