When I heard news of the tragedy at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, I was immediately brought back to an experience I had in high school, when the seniors played a “prank” and painted all the underclassmen Jews’ cars with swastikas. In that moment, seeing a symbol of hate for my people, I felt the terror of not belonging. I felt the fear of isolation, being told my identity was something to mock, at its most benign, and to kill and extinguish at its most malicious.
This small moment of anti-semitism in many ways started me on my path towards the work I do today. I came away from this experience not just motivated to end anti-semitism, but to see all the ways we are failing as a society to honor and protect every being’s inherent value. Feeling like I didn’t belong for even a second ignited in me a deep knowing that I could not tolerate living in a world where others face this level of hatred, isolation, and stigma every day. I knew I must work every day to create a world without exploitation, of people, animals, or the planet. As activist Lilla Watson said, your liberation is bound up with mine.
My life purpose is to build a world of connection and belonging, which means I cannot ignore that the same weekend as this terrible temple shooting in Pittsburgh, 5 people died and dozens more were injured in shootings in Chicago. In October 2018 alone, more than 36 people have died in mass shootings in the US. And gun violence isn’t the only way our society dehumanizes and destroys – punitive systems of mass incarceration, voter suppression, immigration detention, all part of an endless list of state-sanctioned violence.
These are not separate issues, just as they are not new. In 1958, after the Atlanta Temple Bombing, Ralph McGill issued a statement of solidarity and recognition that anti-semitism and anti-blackness come from the same cloth: “You do not preach and encourage hatred for the Negro and hope to restrict it to that field. It is an old, old story. It is one repeated over and over again in history. When the wolves of hate are loosed on one people, then no one is safe.”
When we allow hate towards one, we all hurt. The 1950s sound so far away, and it can be easy to dismiss our history, shut the door and say we’ve moved on. Or we can feel the urge to rewrite history, to pretend we had a better past, to pretend we have always stood firmly on our values. But these words from six decades ago still ring true. When the wolves of hate are loosed on one people, then no one is safe.
We aren’t safe until we have built a world of love. I Grow Chicago’s vision statement is a world where love lives in public, drawn from the famous Cornel West quote “justice is what love looks like in public.” In the wake of this tragedy, my rabbi sent out a statement with a reminder of the prayer, Olam chesed yibaneh. We will build this world from love.
It feels like no coincidence to me that these two communities I care so deeply about share the same vision. My Judaism and my purpose are not different aspects of my being. I firmly believe that my work is my greatest expression of my faith, and as my work has made me bear witness to deep suffering and loss, I have had to return to my faith for meaning and for strength.
These words have become my daily prayer and my life purpose. If in doubt love, if in doubt love, if in doubt love. Olam chesed yibaneh. We will build this world from love. We will create a just world, knowing justice cannot be separated from love. Love love love love love love…
Many people smarter and more eloquent than I have spoken about this and other shootings. I am offering my voice and my actions as just one drop in the wave needed to knock down hatred. I offer myself, wherever I am needed, in service of love in public. I affirm now, again and again, that we will build a world where love lives in public. For all, without exceptions, knowing that we are all connected.
It is the only way to true liberation.