On Shavuot earlier this week, we joyously celebrated our receipt of the Torah at Mount Sinai, with its commandments that give our Jewish values and our sense of community. We read from the Book of Ruth, which teaches us to be kind, loving and open.
As is tradition, many of us studied as a community into the early hours of Sunday morning on Shavuot. And as we did, a terrorist attack was taking place in Florida. Over the course of three hours, members of an LGBTQ community were being terrorized in a nightclub in Orlando—a massacre that left 49 people murdered and 50 others injured. Days earlier a terrorist attack at a popular restaurant at the Sarona Market in Tel Aviv left four dead and some 17 injured; in Paris the day after the Orlando shooting, two French police officers—a married couple—were stabbed to death in front of their 3-year-old child.
Confronted with such incomprehensible violence and hate, I struggled with the ideas presented in the Book of Ruth. How can we continue to believe in community when our faith in humanity is being tested?
Yet, we know that it is exactly at the moment when our faith is being tested that we need to be strong. And that also is what we learn through the story of Ruth, who remained kind despite the immense challenges she faced.
The Orlando attack hit particularly hard, not just because of the sheer number of people murdered and injured, but also because it was an attack on a community that for decades has fought hard for its civil rights, and in recent years has made so many gains.
Last month, Jewish Federations sponsored a trip for LGBTQ leaders from 17 communities to see Israel and meet with like-minded peers. All remarked on how welcomed they felt, hosted by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin as well as by U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro and many others. For too many in this group, returning to Israel with a spouse or simply visiting had seemed like a far-off dream. While much work remains to be done, this trip is a clear example that there have been significant gains as well.
As a Jewish community, we are also particularly vulnerable to hate-motivated attacks. This year the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported that there are at least 100 to 150 jihadist fighters still at large in the United States. And although they are being monitored, DHS says that Jews are top targets for terrorists. Federations are fortunate to have the Secure Community Network (SCN) to help communities anticipate and respond to these threats.
Our challenge is to ensure that despite our concerns about security we remain true to our values. We must find a way to balance keeping our doors open and keeping our community and its institutions safe.
The teachings of Shavuot and the commandments help define our values, our relationship with G-d and our relationships with one another.
Those teachings also remind us that we are part of a larger global community comprised of all religions, races, creeds and orientations. They teach us that we have to be champions for freedom and decency. No matter where we live, what language we speak or religion we follow, we all deserve life, integrity and security.
We pray for the victims of the massacre in Orlando and the attacks in Tel Aviv and Paris, and our hearts are with the families of those who have lost their lives to terrorism and hate. May the memory of each victim of terror be a blessing to us all.
Jerry Silverman is president & CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America