Friends, at this tragic juncture in our shared history, I ask you a single question: As those fateful bullets punctured our world on the eighth day of Pesach in Poway – where were they aimed? That bullet, so heroically taken by Lori Kaye, may her memory be a blessing, to protect her beloved Rabbi Yisroel – what was its intended destination?
Anti-Semitism, many will say, is a form of racism, possibly the oldest form of this abhorrent hatred. Yet, anti-Semitism is not actually racism in the classic sense, because we Jews are not a race. There are Jews of every colour and background. The remarkable thing about us is our diversity. We live in different countries, speak different languages, inhabit different cultures, and come from different races. This dazzling racial and cultural diversity is most obvious in Israel, which, since its establishment, has attracted Jews from every part of the globe, resulting in an ingathering of biblical proportions. And, so, we are not a race. We are not a culture. We are also not a people. All people are people. What does Jewish identity really mean?
So, what are we? We are our values, our ideals, our morals and our ethics. We are a nation born at the foot of a mountain. We were born at Mount Sinai when G-d gave us our Divine mission to carry His ideals and values with us on a journey through history. We are these values and ideals that we have lived by for thousands of years, ever since that momentous event. It is this Divine mission that has been the energy, the passion and the eternal vitality of the Jewish people. All of the ancient nations and civilisations have disappeared from the pages of history. We remain. The reason for our existence, the purpose of it all, is what gives us the inspiration, the meaning and the moral clarity to continue the great journey of Jewish history.
And it is these Divine values and ideals that our enemies, throughout the generations, have risen up to destroy. The attacker in Poway walked into a shul whose members were celebrating Pesach, remembering the Divine miracles of the Exodus, and the mission that we got from G-d in the aftermath of that liberation. He walked into a shul not only because it was a convenient place to find Jews gathering, but because it symbolised Jewish values and Jewish ideals. Anti-Semites throughout history have been the opponents of our most precious values. And so it has been, as it always was from the beginning of time, an ideological struggle, a struggle between the forces of good and evil, a struggle between light and darkness.
Thus, when we respond to anti-Semitism, attending to physical safety to keep out our enemies is only the beginning. Our enemies come up against us, not primarily to destroy our physical bodies and infrastructure, but to destroy our Divine values and ideals and our mission. In response, we need to reaffirm our commitment to who we are, to what it means to be a Jew, to the values and ideals of our Divine mission. That reaffirmation is part of how we live our lives and what we do each day to live as a Jew. A synagogue is the symbol of that, but it is not the sole symbol. To be a Jew is not only about our prayers in a synagogue.
It is about how we live our life each and every single day, about how much we give to tzedakah and how we treat our fellow human beings, how and when we pray, what we eat, who we are, what our ethics and values and morals are, and the place of Shabbat in our lives. The shul is a symbol of these values and a place where we gather, to be inspired and to renew our commitment to living a life of what it means to be a Jew in every part of our existence – at home, in our families, at work, in our schools, and in every part of society.
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of the Chabad of Poway, together with community leaders across the greater San Diego area, have called on all of us – as an act of solidarity – to come to shul this Shabbat. Let us heed this call, and let us do so because we are reaffirming who we are. Let us do so because we are recommitting to a vibrant Jewish future based on our eternal Divine values.
A vibrant Jewish future is not only dependent on our physical security infrastructure, but also on our spiritual vision for the future. Let us recommit to the grand idea of what it means to bena Jew and let us find our way forward to a future filled with inspiration and determination, a future that will see us defeat those who seek to destroy our values – a future dedicated to making this world a better place and living with pride, dignity and inspiration, with the privilege of our Divine mission.