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The Tragedy in Orlando

I turn to our tradition for guidance, comfort and wisdom when looking for answers and trying to make some semblance of sense of some senseless act.

The Torah’s assertion that each and every human being is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God is a clarion call to treat people, all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or choices with derekh eretz, with dignity and kavod, respect.  The murders at the Pulse Night Club was a hate crime that violates the Torah’s injunction to “love your neighbor as yourself.”   As Jews we understand what it means to be singled out, what it means to be vulnerable, what it means to be a victim.  Knowing that the Talmud equates each and every life with an entire world, we feel the pain of the families who lost loved ones.
As a prayer in our prayer book which is inspired by the prophets states:  “We have not come into being to hate or destroy, but to love.”
Based on what is currently known, the violent act was clearly directed against LGBQT individuals and was inspired by the hate-filled teachings of the Islamic State which claims to speak in the name of Islam.  As a recent article in the Washington Post points out, unfortunately these teachings are not inconsistent with the prevailing attitude towards gays in most, if not all predominantly Muslim countries.
Just last week after the terrorist attack in Tel Aviv I shared the powerful poem by the Hebrew poet Zelda called, “Everyone Has a Name” in my Shabbat sermon.  The words of the poem, excerpted in part below, are as applicable to the victims in Orlando as they are to those gunned down in Israel the previous week.
Everyone has a name
given to him by God
and given to him by his father and his mother.
Everyone has a name
given to him by his stature
and the way he smiles.
and given to him by the fabric he wears…
Everyone has a name
given to him by his sins
and given to him by his longings….
Everyone has a name
given to him by his enemies
and given to him by his love….
Everyone has a name
given to him by the sea and
given to him
by his death.
The poem reminds us not to forget that each individual life that was taken was precious and more than just a name or a statistic.
The last insight comes not from our traditional texts, but from what we can learn from how Israel has handled similar attacks, for regrettably they have become unwilling experts on how to respond to deadly attacks.  After a terrorist blew himself up at the Dolphinarium night club in Tel Aviv in 2001 during the height of the Intifada resulting in the deaths of 21 young people, Israelis were in a similar state of shock to what we in America are currently feeling.  Outside the disco a makeshift monument of flowers and notes was created.  The sign at the center simply said, “Lo nafsik lirkod:  We will not stop dancing.”
Ultimately, that attitude of perseverance and of not giving in to hatred, terror or fundamentalist religious intolerance is what is needed to prevail and be sure that the terrorists do not succeed in their goals of terrorizing us and of disrupting our lives and of threatening our way of life.
May the Source of comfort send consolation and comfort to all who mourn.

Also published on Medium.

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Stuart Weinblatt

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt is the President of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America. From 2009 - 2014 he served as Director of Israel Policy and Advocacy for the Rabbinical Assembly.
Rabbi Weinblatt is the rabbi of Congregation B'nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, a vibrant Conservative synagogue of 650 families he founded in 1988, along with his wife and a handful of families.