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Roytenberg: Stop blaming your fellow Jews

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On Nov. 3, I attended a solidarity Shabbat at my synagogue, Kehillat Beth Israel, in Ottawa. The attendance exceeded all expectations, as members showed up by the hundreds. They were there to pray and to seek community at a time of sorrow. It was a gesture of solidarity with the victims of the Oct. 27 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and it was intended to show that the terrorist will not prevent Jews from assembling for prayer.

Our rabbi, Eytan Kenter, was accompanied at the service by leaders of Christian and Muslim congregations in our Ottawa neighbourhood. Like many of us, they showed up to demonstrate their solidarity with the Jews of Ottawa and to demonstrate their refusal to yield to terror.

All over North America, similar gatherings occurred. It is heartwarming to see people reacting to this evil act by closing ranks and uniting in support of mutual tolerance. At the service, Rabbi Kenter said that hatred and fear are great short-term motivators, but that only love can build a better world in the long-run.

In contrast to the outpouring of unity and love at our solidarity Shabbat, I have also observed other reactions that were less admirable and less constructive. In the face of such a heinous act, it is natural for people to experience a wide variety of emotional reactions. Certainly, many of us felt angry. We also felt a profound sense of grief and helplessness. It is perhaps not surprising that one reaction to such feelings is to try to identify who is to blame and to denounce them.

What’s shocking is that some have found a way to point the finger of blame at their fellow Jews, rather than the hate-filled anti-Semite who committed the heinous act. I read one widely circulated tweet that said that “Jewish supporters of Donald Trump who back him because of his policies on Israel and Iran should be ashamed because they have blood on their hands.”

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In a similar fashion, it is sadly not uncommon on the Jewish right to denounce Jews who support the Democrats for aiding and abetting Palestinian terrorism and Iranian aggression. In a somewhat similar vein, some Conservative Jews chose to take offence, rather than comfort, from the heartfelt condolences expressed by Israel’s chief rabbi to the victims of the Pittsburgh atrocity.

Like all people, it is normal for Jews to disagree about everything from politics, religious expression and education, to sports, the arts, food and the best way to live a good Jewish life. For some of us, study and prayer are the essence of Judaism, while others feel called to the many expressions of tikun olam. Certainly, involvement in politics, journalism and public affairs is one way in which some of us try to create a better world.

Within the arena of political discourse, the state of the debate is especially fraught at the moment and we tend to see the proponents of views we disagree with as not just wrong, but evil. It is very important for us to remember that like us, our fellow Jews who are active in support of different political and social causes are motivated, as we are, by a desire to make the world a better place.

When the Jewish community comes under violent attack, it is especially important for all of us to resist the impulse to channel our fear and anger into our ongoing disagreements with our fellow Jews. Just as left-wing Jews are not to blame for acts of violence by Arabs against Israelis, right-wing Jews are not to blame for the horrific events in Pittsburgh. The blame for acts of violence ultimately lies in the hands of the perpetrators and their direct enablers. We should never let terrorism against Jews become the cause of hatred toward our fellow Jews.