It happened again. Though shocking, Saturday’s shooting at Chabad of Poway, a synagogue in California, was not surprising.
One person was killed. That’s bad enough. It could have been much worse. To say such acts are repugnant is a criminal understatement. No person, anywhere, should fear going into their house of worship. No one should have to wonder whether their services will be interrupted by gunfire from someone twisted by hate.
After the attack on mosques in New Zealand, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein called them “an act of pure evil.” His post on Facebook was a masterpiece of moral clarity:
“Attacking innocent people is abhorrent! It is abhorrent when it is a shul in Pittsburg and it is abhorrent when it is in a Mosque in New Zealand! Every human being is created in the image of G-D. Human life is precious. Our prayers and thoughts are with the people of New Zealand.”
What gives Goldstein’s words power is as much what he didn’t say as what he did. He didn’t point, as he reasonably could have, to the rise in antisemitism in the past several years. He didn’t give a litany of grievances or play games with who has suffered greater injustice. He clearly and simply, in unmistakable language, stated the fundamental fact that such attacks are inexcusable.
On Saturday it was Goldstein looking at such evil. He serves at Chabad of Poway, and was injured in the shooting. One of his congregants died, reportedly while shielding him from the gunman.
Houses of worship should never be places of terror. There must be no place, in our nation or any other, for religious violence. There is no place here or elsewhere, for political violence. We must recognize that. We must take that as our standard, a bare minimum for decent behavior.
It should shock all of us that something like that needs to be said. It should worry us that some do not understand that basic fact.
Violence, acts of vengeance, cannot hope to end violence. They can only sustain it. They can only add to the sense of being wronged. Such acts are collected by those who hoard injuries, real and imagined, storing them up until they twist themselves around to the idea that revenge is acceptable.
We know little about the shooter’s motive. We do know the man accused of this act is also a suspect in a fire at a mosque. Such acts are the definition of hate crimes.
Hate corrodes. Hate corrupts. Hate, in the end, leads to the inability to see others as people. People with hopes and dreams that are, for the most part, not so different from our own. When a person loses that ability, the loss is of something that truly makes us human. It is a loss to be mourned.
What hate is not, though, is invincible. Each of us has the ability to subdue it within ourselves.
Saturday’s attack will, sadly, probably not be the last act of violence directed at worshippers. That will only come when we understand the depth such acts come from, when we see with Rabbi Goldstein’s clarity the need to stand against them.