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Sunday, September 22, 2019

We entered Shavuot with the fresh pain of the June 8th killing of four Israelis by two Palestinian terrorists at the Max Brenner Café at Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market complex, only to emerge from Matan Torah to find our entire country suffering after an unthinkable early Sunday morning massacre in Orlando, Florida. There, at Pulse, a gay nightclub, 49 people were murdered and over 50 more wounded by a lone gunman, who, before he was killed by police, told a 911 operator of his allegiance to ISIS. The carnage resulted in the largest act of terror on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001.

Many of us learned Torah through the night and early morning hours of Shavuot, delighting in the inspiring words of our rabbis and teachers. We look forward to disconnecting from the outside world in the protected sacred space of our learning, especially when Shabbos turned into Yom Tov. It was an opportunity to learn in the memory of those killed in Tel Aviv. If anything, Shavuot was the Jewish world community’s answer to the Sarona Market terror.

Temporarily unplugging from the world took us away from our go-to internet news websites or even that day’s newspaper. Coming off the high of the learning, the meals and davening we shared together, it was all the more difficult to process the horrible news we read about as Yom Tov ended.

Our Yom Tov was sandwiched between two horrific acts of terrorism, one in Israel and the other in Florida. These events only serve to remind us of the depths unbridled hatred will take. In Israel, the two terrorists, cousins from the Palestinian town Yatta, were dressed in suits and ordered dessert before they went on their killing rampage against the restaurant’s Jewish clientele.

In Orlando, the killer, who we would learn, was no stranger to the night spot, took the lives of and wounded both gay and straight clientele. As in Tel Aviv, unstoppable hate was meted out as fast as the killer, an Arab American, could empty his rifle’s magazine.

Perhaps the most valuable words to take out from the depths of the hatred came from Keith Mines, the U.S. Deputy Ambassador to Israel.

“Sometimes I feel we grow accustomed to these kinds of events in both of our countries,” he was quoted in the Israeli media as saying. “Fear and hate will continue to tear our two countries apart from the inside. But they will always be confronted by a spirit of understanding, respect and tolerance. It’s up to us to change the rhetoric, to promote love over anger, empathy over blame and to choose peace over hatred.”

No American, gay or straight, Jewish or Arab, should ever have to pay for their civil rights with their lives. We as a strong American-Jewish community must seek justice for those killed or wounded and speak out against hatred, bigotry or racism. May our communities join in the cause of righteousness and truth so that love and understanding will neutralize the tragedies that so often result from baseless hatred.

And may we take the lessons we learned during our Shavuot study and commit them to improve the lot of mankind.