In tragic vi­o­lence, we see again that words have con­se­quences, and so do elec­tions

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - EXPLORE - BY RABBI DAN FINK

On Oct. 27, a vir­u­lently anti-semitic ex­trem­ist al­legedly gunned down 11 Jews in the Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue where they were gath­ered for Shab­bat prayers. It was, by com­mon con­sen­sus, the most lethal at­tack on Jews in our na­tion’s his­tory, and it sent shock­waves of grief and anx­i­ety through the Amer­i­can Jewish com­mu­nity and most of the U.S., shat­ter­ing the il­lu­sion that our sanc­tu­ar­ies are safe and free of worldly wor­ries. A week later, it still feels like we’ve re­verted to an ear­lier, uglier time and place in our peo­ple’s long his­tory of pain and per­se­cu­tion.

I was shocked — but, sadly, I wasn’t sur­prised. Alas, with hind­sight, the mas­sacre in Pitts­burgh feels, trag­i­cally, al­most in­evitable. This was a unique event, per­pe­trated upon a spe­cific Jewish com­mu­nity by some­one with a long his­tory of ha­tred — but it was also just the lat­est in a long se­ries of hate crimes emerg­ing from the homi­ci­dal big­otry lurk­ing on the fringes of Amer­i­can so­ci­ety. It fol­lows an all­too-fa­mil­iar pat­tern: a white man with a semi­au­to­matic as­sault-style weapon slaugh­ters mem­bers of eth­nic, re­li­gious or cul­tural mi­nori­ties. In­deed, it came just days af­ter a shooter tried un­suc­cess­fully to en­ter a black Bap­tist church in Ken­tucky, and then gunned down two African-amer­i­can men in a nearby su­per­mar­ket park­ing lot.

It is no co­in­ci­dence that the al­leged gun­man’s fi­nal mes­sage to the world was a rant against HIAS, the Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tion that has spon­sored refugees in Amer­ica for well over a cen­tury — for such ha­tred is fed by the ugly rhetoric spewed by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion, reg­u­larly re­fer­ring to im­mi­grants as rapists, an­i­mals, drug deal­ers and in­fes­ta­tions. In­deed, even af­ter the lat­est atroc­ity, Trump con­tin­ues to rile up his base by rail­ing at a car­a­van of asy­lum seek­ers as an “in­va­sion” and en­cour­ag­ing crack­pot con­spir­acy the­o­ries that ad­vo­cate im­pris­on­ing his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

Words have con­se­quences. This was not the first time Trump’s an­gry, big­oted lan­guage has con­trib­uted to tragic vi­o­lence, nor is it likely to be the last.

In the open­ing of the He­brew bible, God speaks the world into ex­is­tence with words. Again and again, God says, “Let there be ... ” and it comes to be: light, fir­ma­ment, land and sea, plants and an­i­mals. Jewish tra­di­tion notes that we hu­mans, cre­ated in the Di­vine Image, also cre­ate worlds with the words we speak. Lov­ing words beget love. Hate­ful words beget hate. As the book of Proverbs de­clares: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

A week af­ter Pitts­burgh, we grieve. We mourn the dead, as we Amer­i­cans have, of late, far too of­ten mourned the vic­tims of ha­tred. We cry. But even as we weep, we must also ac­tively re­sist the on­slaught of evil words that are like sparks to the ga­so­line of dis­turbed minds. We best honor the vic­tims by con­demn­ing big­otry, work­ing for jus­tice and cel­e­brat­ing kind­ness, in lan­guage and in deed. Re­mem­ber.

Take courage.

And vote.

Words have con­se­quences.

Elec­tions do, too.

Dan Fink is the rabbi for the Aha­vath Beth Is­rael con­gre­ga­tion.the Idaho States­man’s weekly faith col­umn fea­tures a ro­ta­tion of writ­ers from many dif­fer­ent faiths and per­spec­tives.

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