Between Us: Let’s talk about countering hate

Between Us

These famous words speak to us from this week’s Torah portion, Naso:

May God bless you and keep you;
May God shine upon you and show compassion to you;
May God lift the Divine Countenance and give peace to you.

Known as the Priestly Benediction, this simple blessing builds from three to five to seven Hebrew words, each line adding meaning to the previous one. It is especially poignant to read this blessing during these distressingly complex and difficult days. In a descending countdown of the past week and a half:

Nine days ago, terrorists killed four Israelis at the Max Brenner restaurant in the Sarona Market in Tel Aviv.

Seven days ago, the Jewish Community Relations Council sponsored a vigil outside of the Max Brenner Chocolate Bar in Bethesda. On just 24 hours’ notice, more than 100 people came together to stand for peace and against terror. I was invited to be one of the speakers and noted that young Israelis went to Sarona the day after the attack to sing and dance in solidarity with the victims. I reflected on the memorial outside of the Dolphinarium, also in Tel Aviv, also the site of a terrorist attack 15 years ago. The memorial reads, “We’ll never stop dancing.” Terrorism seeks to stop us from living our lives in freedom, from enjoying each other, from talking, holding hands, loving, laughing and yes, from dancing.

Five days ago, a hate-filled terrorist, possibly inspired by radical Islamic views, killed 49 people and severely injured scores more – while they were dancing at a gay bar and dance club in Orlando. As America’s Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, noted, “All Americans were attacked, but the LGBT community was targeted.” We stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ and entire Orlando community, and last night, Adas Israel hosted a Washington Jewish Community Orlando Solidarity Gathering, sponsored by many organizations, including Federation.

Intolerance, extremism, violence, radical Islamic terror. And hate. So much hate. This rising tide of violence, around the world and here in the United States, is profoundly disturbing and reiterates the threat of terrorism to the entire free world. We mourn for those murdered, offer our condolences to their families and pray for a swift recovery of the injured.

In spite of the past nine days, and in the many days, weeks, months and years ahead, we must work to counter the hate. Our ability to reach out to others, show compassion and work for peace is a powerful antidote for a world brimming with hatred.

I am not naïve. There are many who hate (fill in the blank): Westerners, Americans, blacks, Hispanics, gays…and Jews. We must assertively and responsibly take action against those who would do us harm. But just as the Priestly Benediction elegantly builds upon God’s blessings with the goal of peace, so too must we work to create a community that seeks to do the same.

There is no possible way to make sense of this horrifying terror, hatred, violence and bigotry. But as individuals and as a Jewish community, we can pray for a future where peace reigns supreme.

Shabbat Shalom.