There are many analogies from medicine that can be applied to the horrific shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
One of the most apt is sepsis.
Over the years, I have witnessed congregants fight and sometimes succumb to such life-threatening infections that can shut down vital organs. As sepsis becomes severe, blood flow to the brain, the heart and kidneys can be impaired. It can can cause blood clots in the organs and to the extremities. Physicians treat it aggressively with antibiotics and sometimes surgery to save their patients.
Do we have a kind of moral sepsis spreading through the body of this country? How can we not acknowledge this infectious rampage of hate in which someone brings an automatic weapon into a house of worship and uses it to murder innocent people gathered together in prayer?
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We’ve seen it before, at an elementary school, at high schools, in a church and in a night club. Now, a synagogue.
If we do not apply a serious treatment plan to fight this poison of hate, do we risk the severe consequences of an infection that would shut down or incapacitate our culture in America?
The real question is whether the hate behind these horrendous crimes is treatable?
I don’t know the answer to that question. But I am convinced we cannot give up on the mission to resist this kind of behavior.
The Jewish community in America is certainly in mourning, and fear has spread, threatening our confidence that America is a safe place for Jewish people.
In a letter to the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790, George Washington wrote:
“May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there should be none to make him afraid.”
The real infection is not hate but fear, which can diminish or weaken the moral and spiritual immune system of American Jews. Fear is the most severe symptom of hate. It can damage any group of Americans. The Jewish people have been in America and contributed to its greatness since the beginning, when the first ship of Jewish refugees came to New Amsterdam from Recife, Brazil, in 1654.
Now, over 360 years later, delusional extremists murder us at will and portray us as a threat to the nation.
But I take heart that many Americans will stand up and condemn these actions. On Sunday our Hilton Head congregation sponsored a community assembly of solidarity and hope. Over 500 people from all over the Lowcountry attended. Christian and Islamic clergy came to stand with us against hate and fear.
Hope and steadfast commitment to preserving the greatness of the American experiment is still alive.
The patient can be treated, and the moral sepsis can be cured.
Communities must stand united and recognize that a crime of violence against one group is a crime against all. We must conquer the fear and the apathy that too often dulls our emotions and leads us to ignore such problems because they do not relate to directly to us. That kind of attitude is the worst response and only encourages deranged people to act on their murderous impulses.
I worry about our youth and what they witness from our political leadership’s apparent resistance to treat this problem. Politics and poisonous rhetoric too often becomes a carrier of the infection, not a cure.
We must send the message to our youth that they are safe and that abhorrent behavior like we witnessed in Pittsburgh, Parkland, Sandy Hook and Las Vegas will never be tolerated or countenanced.
When will we treat the fear?
Is there an antibiotic to treat hate, too?
The Jewish community in America is hurting.
But we are heartened to see the outpouring of love and support.
We, too, shall do our part to help others afflicted with this serious infection.
We, too, will stand shoulder to shoulder with any group who is victimized.
Our place will always be standing with the victims of hate. That is how we bear witness to injustice and evil and work for an America that our progeny deserves, one free of fear and hate.
Hope is still alive.