Rabbi Michael Lerner, who leads the Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls in Berkeley and is the editor of Tikkun magazine, sent this out to his community in the aftermath of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. It is reprinted here with his permission.
On Saturday, October 27, shortly after the largest massacre of Jews in US history took place in Pittsburgh, I received a message from the leadership of the largest African American Baptist Church in Oakland, California. Recalling that we at Tikkun had brought dozens of our subscribers and members to their church on several occasions when African Americans had been murdered by white racist fanatics, they asked me when Beyt Tikkun would be having a service to which they could attend to show their solidarity with us. As one of their leaders put it, “we are praying for the Jewish community that is under violent assault from White Supremacy just like African Americans. You have stood with the Black community without hesitation in the past. We stand with you today! Please let us know how to be good allies in this troubling time.”
That was soon followed by messages from a range of Muslim organizations with essentially the same message: The attacks on Jews are no different from attacks on Muslims. We need to all stand together.
But why now?
One answer provided by some liberals goes something like this: “The murderer chose this particular Temple because of its support and advocacy on behalf of immigrants (and particularly the important immigration support work of HIAS). Republicans have spent years building up the idea that immigration is an existential threat to America. Some of them have alleged that Jews (notably Jewish philanthropic billionaire George Soros) are secretly funding both immigrants and protesters against President Trump and his attempt to preserve America as a white Christian country.
‘What the murderer in Pittsburgh did on Saturday morning is the direct result of that campaign and of Trump’s continuing remarks suggesting that Democrats and liberals are disloyal to the US and seeking to destroy all that is sacred here. So the murderer’s finger may have been on the trigger. But a lot of Republicans including Donald Trump created the context in which this action would have seemed like merely acting to save the country from forces that millions of Republicans have been claiming to be an existential threat to our country. And their message was heard by many others, including the attempted murderer who earlier last week sent bombs to Soros and several other prominent liberals.
‘If Republicans retain control of Congress in the midterms, it is likely to be because Trump has managed to turn the midterms into a fear-based reaction to what he, with help of much of the media, portrays as a threat coming from uninvited refugees.”
This narrative is particularly compelling because of the absence of any call on the part of the US government to expose and arrest the major manifestation of terrorism in the US in the past several years—the radical right with its violence against African Americans, gays and lesbians, Muslims, and increasingly against Jews.
Yet this too needs to be contextualized as a current manifestation of the racist foundations of our country with genocide of Native Americans and slavery. And more recently that violence manifested in the war in Vietnam to the war and torture of thousands in Iraq in the 2000s on the bogus claim that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, to the campaign against “illegal” immigrants by Barack Obama (whose Administration expelled more immigrants than all the previous presidents of the US combined).
This pattern of violence and demeaning of “the Other” has become so deeply embedded in the culture of the US that only a true consciousness transformation will undermine its prevalence in both major political parties.
The racist versions of American nationalism must be rejected, but its appeal to people set adrift by the emotional consequences of living in a world in which “looking out for number one” has severely weakened friendships and contributed to the high level of family dysfunction and divorce. As a psychotherapist I am very aware of the suffering many Americans face as children when their attachment to parents are broken and they feel rejected and not truly cared for. Anger often masks deep sadness so acute that many people would rather blame some other than heal themselves.
The more people feel inadequately respected and recognized, the more that childhood rejection hurts, and the more they avoid feeling that sadness by directing their anger at whoever is the current demeaned other in their society. If we are ever to reverse all this, it will require millions of us to approach these broken and hurting people with compassion and empathy that at the moment is in short supply on all sides of the political divide—even as we vigorously reject the racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism through which that pain gets expressed.
Our efforts to build a peaceful world require us to act peacefully now and always—to breakdown walls of separation with bridges of connection, to crack open aching hearts with fierce love and compassion, to critique and challenge evil behavior without diminishing the humanity of the actor. We stand in solidarity with all the “others” of our society whose lives are threatened and endangered by acts of violence and continue to commit to loving the stranger, the “other.” In the final analysis, the only real way to “resist” the growth of fascistic consciousness is to build a movement that replaces “American first” with “love first.”
The good news is this: despite the negativity, hurtfulness, and evil that has increasingly gotten support by the Trump Administration and sections of the Republican Party, there is a fundamental decency and goodness in most people on this planet and in the US. We see that in the love pouring out toward the Jewish community from all sectors of this society. It is our task to affirm and strengthen that loving energy rather than sink into despair.