This past Saturday, in the middle of a circumcision ceremony in a Shabbat worship Service, an armed gunman entered Etz Chaim Tree of Life Jewish Synagogue, shouting hateful slurs, and proceeded to murder eleven congregants in the deadliest attack in American Jewish history.
The gunman, Robert Bowers, told authorities while being taken away in custody:
“I just want to kill Jews.”
We at Jewish Voice mourn the loss of our Jewish brethren and stand in solidarity with the Jewish community worldwide in condemning this attack. We continue to pray for the full healing and recovery of the injured worshipers and law enforcement officers who responded to protect the synagogue members and apprehended the shooter.
As the hours progress, the details unfold, and the numbness and shock of such senseless violence give way to a flurry of emotions and opinions both locally and internationally, the Etz Chaim Synagogue tragedy will doubtless fuel the fires of hostile debate: gun control, the dangers of social media loners’ unchecked hate speech, the sharp political divisions in our nation and the fear and violence they invite.
But before all that, in this tragic hour, we at Jewish Voice remember ‒ and encourage you to remember ‒ several truths which can and should steady our thinking and affect our actions as we grapple with Pittsburgh:
Firstly, anti-Semitism (an irrational hatred toward or prejudice against Jewish people) is alive and well. While the Etz Chaim shooting was unprecedented in its deadly scope within the American Jewish community, acts of violence or destruction based solely on prejudice against and hatred toward Jews are an ongoing reality throughout world history. In fact, several of the victims in Pittsburgh were of the age to have had parents or siblings who could have been killed in the Holocaust ‒ the largest and most destructive anti-Semitic atrocity in the history of mankind. What motivated Hitler was also what motivated Robert Bowers: a prejudice that believed that Jewish people were and are the cause of his problems; therefore, they should be destroyed.
In 2017 alone, the anti-Defamation League reported a 57% increase in documented anti-Semitic acts in the United States ‒ the largest single increase in three decades of tracking. More globally, we at Jewish Voice continue to come face-to-face with threats, acts of destruction, physical violence, and even murder, against members of the Jewish communities we serve around the world ‒ in Europe, Africa, Israel, and beyond. The common denominator? Anti-Semitism ‒ vicious prejudices and seething hatred solely because of Jewish identity. The most unlikely and shocking source of so much of the anti-Semitic thinking we encounter? Leaders and groups who call themselves ‘Christian.’
Now, more than ever, we at Jewish Voice call upon Believers in the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, to unite ‒ regardless of political affiliation or ethnic background ‒ to be re-sensitized to the reality that anti-Semitism is one of the Enemy’s most dangerous, but historically most effective, means to attempt to wipe God’s Chosen People off the face of the earth. And the Enemy’s most diabolical means of circulating such a dangerous worldview? Planting it within the Body of Believers worldwide ‒ the Church. We call upon Believers to reject any theology which rejects God’s Chosen People Israel, and to actively challenge ‒ with truth and love ‒ anti-Semitic words and actions wherever when they arise.
Secondly, we are commanded in the Scriptures to rejoice with those who rejoice, but also to mourn with those who mourn. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated Sunday, “The entire people of Israel grieve with the families of the dead.” Tragedy is not a stranger to Jewish communities worldwide, and when tragedy strikes, we are accustomed to joining together to remember that, though we endure suffering, we live on. We also gather, often reciting the Mourner’s Prayer together, to remember that there is a God in Heaven who lives and endures, whose name endures, and who is able to make peace in our lives and the lives of our people even in times of grief.
At Jewish Voice, we encourage you this week to take time to mourn with those who mourn the senseless loss of life in Pittsburgh. Call and contact your Jewish friends, family members, and neighbors to let them know you are standing with them and with the Jewish community in mourning, and that you share their grief. And, of course, take this opportunity, upon every sighting of the half-staff American flag between now and this Wednesday at sunset, to pray for the Jewish community ‒ in Pittsburgh and in the cities where you live. Pray that God would comfort those who mourn, would bring hope to those who despair, and would bring shalom to those bound up with fear, anxiety, or anger as a result of this tragic past Shabbat.
Thirdly and finally, we exhort you to take bold steps this holiday season, with even more zeal in light of the Pittsburgh massacre, to share with your Jewish friends and neighbors about the One who can bring the only lasting shalom and security: the promised Messiah, Yeshua. The temptation during times of trouble of the Jewish community is for Christians to shrink back, give space, and not ‘offend’ their Jewish friends with their faith. However, we at Jewish Voice encourage and exhort you not to shrink back! Hearts are open to the Lord in times of trouble, and we encourage you to share, in love, the hope and salvation of the One by whose stripes we have been healed ‒ the One in whom all the promises of God for His people Israel (and for all peoples!) have always been ‘yes.’
Pray also for the Messianic ministries and congregations in your area ‒ like Jewish Voice ‒ that we would take bold steps, and that the Lord would open incredible doors in this season to reach out with faith, hope, and love, to our Jewish brethren who are grappling with grief, fear, and confusion. We simply cannot do what we do without your faithful prayers and support.
Thank you for standing with our Jewish people in Pittsburgh and around the world. We count on your love, prayers, and support ‒ even more so in times of trouble.
May He create peace for you, for us, and for all Israel. Amen.
Your friends at Jewish Voice Ministries International