Editor’s Note: Rabbi Peter Grumbacher frequently shares the story of his father’s Holocaust experience. He contributes this guest commentary as we approach the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, when Nazis attacked the Jewish community across Germany.
By Rabbi Peter Grumbacher
Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation Beth Emeth, Wilmington, DE
It has been said that if anti-Semites wanted to destroy us they should merely leave us to our own devices; our apathy would do the job for them.
We Jews have been living a charmed life in the United States, taking our opportunities for granted, our freedom as a given. Now, however, we don’t know what the future has in store. Was the Pittsburgh massacre a lone event by a lone shooter or have the seeds of such hatred been sown and are now ready to ease their way out of the ground? Whatever the answer, our prayers are surely directed towards peace for us and unity for a nation divided.
In the aftermath of Pittsburgh we have seen in towns and cities large and small, disparate communities of faith and people of all orientations join together to voice their support, offer their comfort, and rail against that which allows such heinous acts to occur. That is a welcome outcome of this hatred, and with respect to the Jewish community across the decades in America, a refreshing change from the days when faith groups were suspicious of Jews, isolating themselves and their children from their Jewish neighbors.
In this ever-shrinking world, because of social media and technology in general, everybody’s actions are more in the spotlight. We grieve when others hurt; others have now shown their grief as we ponder the aftermath of tragedy. They have voiced their concern, actually more than mere concern, to their elected officials. In our hearts we beg that it will make a difference.
But we need more; we need a deeply personal response from Jews of all ages. Jews have to rally not just in response to this event, but as a consequence of being Jewish in an environment which has seen apathy impact our collective voice and diminish that which our tradition has held up as vital to the continuity of our People and our faith. It cannot be death that unites us, that calls us to renew who we have been and what we have stood for across the ages. Indeed, it cannot be death but it must be that imperative called life which even in the darkest times has motivated us to look beyond the moment and far into the future. Renewing our dedication to educating our young, our dedication to the power of the spirit, our dedication to the land of Israel, our dedication to community…these will drive us to thrive and not merely to survive. It is our job in part to keep those who would do us harm fail in their goal because we have succeeded in ours.