A Message from Our CEO Gil Preuss: United in the Face of Hatred

On Monday, October 29, The Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Relations Council hosted a communal service at Adas Israel Congregation to honor the victims of the attack in Pittsburgh. Below are the remarks shared by our CEO, Gil Preuss. Click here for the recording of the event.

The deadliest act of anti-Semitism in North American history requires the greatest act of solidarity. Throughout Greater Washington and around the country, we will gather across denominations to pray, to mourn, and to strengthen one another. We hope that every member of our community knows that they are part of a national response to the hatred and violence that has tried – and failed – to tear us apart. We are one people, and though Shabbat was taken from us in the name of hate, we will reclaim it together in the name of love.
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Remarks from October 29, 2018:

Two brothers known for their warmth and their faith. A doctor with a trademark bowtie. A married couple who was always giving back. A father with a dry sense of humor. A vibrant 97-year-old matriarch. A beloved dentist and family man. A petite grandmother with a huge personality. Early risers and regular synagogue goers. Good, kind, and loving people. People looking forward to the days and years ahead.

Good evening. My name is Gil Preuss and I am the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Like you, I am mourning the loss of 11 of our extended family members.

This loss is heartbreaking and that heartbreak is overwhelming.

Among the congregants on Saturday was a Holocaust survivor. He survived Bergen-Belsen only to be nearly killed in Squirrel Hill. How can this be? What kind of world do we live in where this could happen?

As we know, the attack in Pittsburgh followed just days after a despicable shooting in Kentucky in which two African Americans, Maurice Stallard and Vickie Jones, were murdered.

More and more, we find ourselves asking, what can we do to change this? How can we make sure that love triumphs? Where do we go from here?

I believe that where we go from here is towards each other. Now is the time to gather, united in common ideals and common purpose. United in the face of hatred.

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, one of the leading American Rabbis of the 20th century, talks about the two ways in which Jews gather. He describes the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan. During their journey they would at times lives as a Machaneh, a camp, while at other time as an Eda, a congregation. This is true for us today, as well.

As a Machaneh we come together in self-defense. Ever since we were slaves in Egypt, Jews have united to protect ourselves against common enemies. This is an impulse that has helped the Jewish people survive and unfortunately, one we must continue to follow.

We have just suffered the deadliest attack against Jews in U.S. history, at a time when anti-Semitism is on the upswing. We must reinforce our camp. We must respond. We must account for the outside forces that seek to do us harm.

I am proud of the many efforts that have been launched in Pittsburgh and across the country to keep Jewish communities safe. Here in Greater Washington, The Jewish Federation is working in conjunction with the Jewish Community Relations Council to provide emergency grants to shore up security at synagogues and other local organizations.

(Donations may be made to the Federation’s Communal Security Fund.)

But even as we gather to defend ourselves, we must remind ourselves of the second reason why the Jewish community has gathered for thousands of years.

We come together to form an Eda, a congregation.

Congregations are not about reacting to the outside world or to what has happened in the past. Rather, congregations are formed when we come together in pursuit of a shared vision. They reflect the intrinsic aspirations we have for ourselves and our future. They reflect our hopes and dreams for our community.

Importantly, coming together as an Eda, a congregation, helps us to build the world that we seek.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said that, “Jews and Judaism represent the voice of hope in the discourse of humankind.”

This is not hyperbole. Jewish tradition compels us to work together to continually improve ourselves and the world around us. It calls us to serve others with kindness, to pursue justice, to welcome the stranger, to protect the vulnerable, and to instill our shared values in the next generation.

This is precisely what HIAS has been doing for 130 years, and why it was the target, in many ways, of the attack.

Our work is more important than ever. At a time when hate is taking a devastating and deadly toll on our country, we must strive to bring our highest ideals to life.

Here in Greater Washington, this work is already underway. Together, we are building a community that cares for one another. That stands with each other and for each other. That treats everyone with dignity and respect.

We are building a community that offers all who are interested the chance to learn and grow together. That honors Jewish tradition while reimagining Jewish life for a new century.

We are building a community that welcomes people of all abilities and backgrounds. That strengthens the bonds we have with each other, with Israel, and with the global Jewish people.

Importantly, we are building a community that acts as a force for good in the world.

When we ask “where do we go from here?” The answer must be that we come together as a camp, as a congregation, and most importantly as a community to light the way forward.

This weekend on November 2 and 3, synagogues across the country will observe a special Solidarity Shabbat. I hope you will join us, and all the other members of the community, as we come together to reject hate and reclaim Shabbat as a time of love and comfort.

Today, the voice of the Jewish people may quiver in grief, but let us never forget the need to articulate hope.

Most of all, let us never forget that we are not simply a people whose fate is shaped by others. We are a people who get to determine our own destiny. This is the task that we have ahead.

Even as our hearts break and as we worry about our collective safety, we must never lose sight of the world we are seeking to build. This is our common faith and our common destiny.

May the memories of those we lost be for a blessing, and may our families and friends be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.