By Peter Geffen
I know I speak for all of you when I express our profound sorrow for the unspeakable violence that invaded the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this Shabbat morning. Two of our alumni, Noah Schoen and Suzy Weiss grew up in that community and are certain to have know some of the victims. Our hearts go out to them and to the members of their immediate and extended families.
When events like this strike so close to home the rupture to the normal routine of life is immediate and often long-lasting. We lose the sense of security that our neighborhoods and our homes must provide.
What shall we do with this dislocation? I think we all know the cliché that tell us to end the conditions that make such acts conceivable. But wishful thinking is simply not enough. We live in a time when madmen and women not only can acquire guns of overwhelmingly destructive power – we live in times in which the leadership of whole countries across the world is returning to a set of values that degrade our common humanity. In 1823, Heinrich Heine said: “Where books are burned, in the end, people will also be burned.” I would paraphrase his prescient warning: “in the place where human rights and ethical norms are violated…ultimately…everything will burn.”
An event like today can become a wake-up call unlike any other. We all need to review our commitment to the demand for peace and justice at home and around the globe. KIVUNIM’s mission states our goal very clearly: “…to expand (the Jewish people’s national) ideology from its current inwardness to a greater outer-directedness actively seeking improvement of the world’s tolerance, mutual respect, commitment to human rights and human dignity, in a more just and more peaceful world. Giving life to the words of the Hebrew Prophets in modern times.” The words are beautiful, but meaningless unless put into action: In our personal lives, in our local communities, on our college campuses, in our professional and business communities and on the international stage. Loss of life like this can never be set right. But it can be given dignity by our response, by our actions.
Founder and President, Peter Geffen is also Founder of The Abraham Joshua Heschel School in NYC, former Director of the Israel Experience Program for the CRB Foundation and one of the most respected Israel education specialists in the world. He has been a social activist since serving as a civil rights worker for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1965-66 and has been deeply involved in Arab-Jewish co-existence work since the early 1960’s.