The October 27th Shabbat massacre of Jews at Tree of Life, a Pittsburgh suburban synagogue, cannot be shared without shudders of regret, anger and sadness as well as a deserved demand for justice. Incidents such as this act as the impetus that drives individuals to act, to pray, to search for answers and to hold their loved ones a little tighter and a little longer.
Unfortunately, I have written many times, too many times, about hatred and the many clever guises it assumes -- racism, prejudice, misogyny, anti-Semitism. You name it or call it what you want, but they all fall under the same evil umbrella. As one rabbi so eloquently stated on CNN in the aftermath of the synagogue tragedy, at their core, these actions and behaviors are all rooted in hatred, nothing more and nothing less. They don't know creed, color or political identification. These vessels of demonism have one goal and that is to maim and destroy, unapologetically.
In tragic times such as these, unity is penultimate, particularly among the leaders of our communities and of our country. After all, we are all American. This belief is why I was, and continue to be, so heartbroken and saddened to see the leaders in and around Pittsburgh turn their backs on the outstretched arms of President Donald Trump. They refused to even meet with him when he visited the religious house. In the aftermath of a tragedy such as this, it is a shame that politics thrives as well as it does. This is not a time or place for politics, and the fact that such a horrific tragedy is becoming a political pawn is unfortunate. Although, given the current narrative in our country, it is not altogether surprising.
Pangs of sadness and deep hurt grip those individuals whose lives are forever changed by the acts of a sick domestic terrorist who acted alone. And yet, at the same time, they still appear to harbor enough hatred in the depths of their hearts for this man, Donald Trump, that in the most somber moments of tragedy, they are still able to say, "You're not welcome." Are these folks unable to pause long enough and put differences aside to think of the president's intentions? Were his motives really sinister? Or were they exactly what they appeared to be: simply the desire to offer comfort, support and condolences. It's the most basic human motive, the most appropriate that any person, world leader or not, would rightly feel.
Never mind the man that is Donald Trump, the current President of the United States. How about the presidential office? What about the institution that is the presidency of the United States? Do we as Americans have such disdain for the office itself that some would go out of their way to be disrespectful and inhospitable -- even in a time of extreme tragedy and heartache? What comfort does that bring? Who does that impress? We all know the answer: no one. Yet we know the mainstream media is all too eager to point cameras into these emotionally charged scenes for a morsel of information that offers nothing more than another superficial layer of criticism for the president.
The two leaders who I'm most disappointed in are Pittsburgh's mayor, Bill Peduto, and Pennsylvania's governor, Tom Wolf, both of whom are members of the Democratic Party. These two leaders have civic obligations to honor public office and to use their own positions of power to promote common well-being across the land. As lofty as that sounds, that's the essence of leadership: to move beyond differences and what separates us as society and find ways to come together, particular in times of hardship. Is it somewhere in the mayor's job description to channel another form of hatred toward President Trump? What does that accomplish? What wounds does that heal?
Finally, when will our society and its leaders choose mercy and grace over revenge and this obsessive need to "get even?" There is no question the President has said and done many things that have not advanced these basic principles of leadership that are the foundation of this great nation. As a leader, he should show humility and own his mistakes. The rhetoric following the Tree of Life tragedy has done nothing to advance the cause of comity. And that's my point: We cannot begin to help heal a land so desperately in need of healing until this country has leaders who, in times of tragedy, can set aside their petty political differences and lead by example in the name of a higher, greater calling. That's where we should train our thoughts and meditations -- on becoming better people, individually, so that we can become a better society, together.