These are the remarks that I made at the Interfaith Vigil at the LJCC on April 21.
Last week, in Jewish homes all over the world, we retold the story of the Exodus from Egypt. We are told that when the seder was being developed, there was a rabbinic disagreement about the meaning of the word “slavery.” Was it, as the sage Rav said, forced labor – not being in control of your own life, your own destiny? Or was it, as Shmuel held, a form of idolatry, the putting in the place of God those things that do not deserve to be in held in such high esteem? Is it physical slavery, or spiritual slavery? As is so often the case, both cases were kept, and both arguments were kept, and both aspects are mentioned in our seders.
Usually when I talk as a rabbi about the spiritual aspect of slavery, I mention those things that constrict us, that prevent our personal or spiritual growth – materialism, or a focus on achievement, or the like. Given the events that took place in Overland Park, this year we are forced to focus on another form of idolatry, an idolatry that has been with us since before the birth of this nation – white supremacy.
Make no mistake – while there is obviously an anti-semitic element to this tragedy, which links it to a hatred that is the world's oldest, and that triggers all sorts of bad memories and feelings and fears in the Jewish community – I believe this could have happened in any number of places where there gather those many whom violent white racists despise - in an African-American church, in a Sikh temple, or in a mosque, or in a car outside a convenience store. Violent white racism is the fever in America that refuses to die.
But look what happened. This person went to the JCC and to Village Shalom looking to kill Jews, but he killed Christians. You know what that tells me? He couldn't tell the difference. This was a person who spent every hour of his day investigation what he thought was the perniciousness of Jews, I'm sure he felt he knew all their features, yet when the moment came, he couldn't tell the difference.
Let me say their name: Dr. William Corporon, Reat Underwood, Terri LaManno. May their memories be a blessing.
They were just doing their thing, like people do all over the place all the time. Forever has there been a tension between this nativism, this violent racism, and it's opposite and antidote: diversity, inclusiveness, tolerance, community, and peace. And that's what was happening at the JCC, that's what was happening at Village Shalom, and that's the response that the Jewish community received from our friends locally and around the world in the aftermath of the tragedy, and that's what's happening here tonight.
Many Christian people have Jewish people in their extended families, many white people have African-Americans in their extended families. In 50 or 100 years it will be nearly as difficult to tell so-called races apart as it is today to tell religions apart. And that's a good thing. And that means that violent white racists are not only losers, but they've lost. Already, they've lost.
But they can still be dangerous, as we have seen. That's why we need to stand with each other, in community. When an African-American is racially profiled, when a Muslim community construction project is opposed simply for their religion, when a gay person is fired for being gay, when a woman is guilty of what happens to her simply because she is a woman – the rest of us must stand in solidarity. My white privilege may allow me to hide when the violence is not directed at me, but I must not hide. Your white skin and Christian identity may allow you to hide, but you must not hide. The answer to hatred is love, the answer to isolation is fellowship, the answer to racism and anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia is diversity and tolerance and inclusiveness, and the answer to violence is peace. The answer to evil is good, the answer to despair is hope, and the answer to idolatry is godliness. And those are all things that the faith community, at its best, has plenty of.
Thank you for being here tonight. Thank you for standing with us. Let this not be the last time we stand together each other's lives, for justice and for peace.