Rabbinic Responses (and More) to Yesterday's Orlando Nightclub Shooting

June 13, 2016Mark J. Pelavin

I spent most of yesterday in the car, sitting in traffic, trying to make conversation with my wife, and thinking about the unfathomable horror of the massacre in Orlando. I find it all but impossible to mentally process evil of such magnitude, let alone to understand it.

Lying in bed last night, not sleeping, I found that a number of “my rabbis” (a pretty broad group, including some of whom probably have no idea they are members, and not all of whom are actually ordained) had offered powerful, meaningful, and eloquent words that really helped me absorb the reality of the shootings.

They are not exactly words of comfort, although I did find comfort in them. They are words of sorrow, of anger, of action, of promise. Here are a few of their voices (and if you read nothing else, please read the remarkable reflection by Rabbi Zoe Klein).

  • Rabbi Joe Black (Temple Emanuel, Denver, CO)
    And so we come here tonight – numb with grief and disbelief. Once again, violence and the carnage brought about by the deadly combinations of hatred, intolerance and easy access to weapons of destruction have transformed mothers, fathers, lovers, spouses, relatives and friends into mourners.

    Tonight, we are all mourners. The categories which once defined us – who we love, how we love; where we pray and when we pray; the languages we speak and the music we sing have melted into the common parlance of our anger and our grief.

    We are here tonight to show solidarity.

    We are here tonight to proclaim the inherent goodness in all of your creation.

    We are here because we have to be here – to see within each others’ eyes the determination to stand up to hatred, bigotry and inhumanity. Tonight we grieve – tomorrow we work to tear down the walls of intolerance that too many want to build.
  • Rabbi Jonathan Blake (Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, N.Y.)
    May love conquer hate. May courage overcome fear. May God rest the souls of the slain and send comfort to the teeming numbers of the broken-hearted.
  • Rabbi Alan Cook (Sinai Temple, Champaign, IL)
    Let us not succumb to Islamophobia.
    Let us not succumb to xenophobia.
    Let us not succumb to homophobia.
    Let us not be mired in hatred and mistrust and fear.
    Let us embrace one another in love and fellowship.
    Let us forget for a moment about Jew, Christian, Muslim, Baha’i; gay, straight, bisexual; male, female, gender nonbinary; white, black, brown; rich, poor; or any of the other labels we use to box ourselves in or to keep others out.
    Let us just be.
  • The clergy of Congregation Emanuel (San Francisco, CA)
    Today is Shavuot, the festival during which we celebrate Matan Torah, the giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai. This was a moment when truth sparked for all to see. It sparks for us, again, here and now. Today we cling tightly to our Torah; our Torah that paints a vibrant, bright and beautiful picture of what community can and should be. We cling tightly to our Torah that cries out to each of us now, tzedek, tzedek tirdof, be in bold and relentless pursuit of justice!
  • The clergy of Temple Israel (Memphis, TN)
     We are all mourners, and as religious Jews will continue to stand up to bigotry, inhumanity, and hatred as we offer comfort, support, and outreach to every family and individual in shock and disbelief. The two Hebrew words each of us ought to know are tzelem elohim - the equal and inviolable image of God within every person. We forfeit the right to worship God, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “when we desecrate the image of God in another human being.”
  • Rabbi Denise Eger and Rabbi Steve Fox (president and chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis)
    We also know that words are not enough. Our thoughts and prayers, our moments of silence, are not enough. We call on all Americans to raise our collective voices about the scourge of gun violence. We call on our nation’s leaders to have the courage to take the decisive action needed to end the epidemic of gun violence. We can be counted upon to do the same in the days, months, and years ahead.

    We look forward to the day, foretold by the ancient prophets of Israel and promised by God, when violence and desolation may be known no more on Earth, when all may dwell in security, and none will live in fear.
  • Jeremy Cronig and Kathryn Fleisher (outgoing and incoming presidents of NFTY)
    It horrifies us to see a sanctuary for the LGBT community targeted with such violence and hatred, especially in this season of pride and love. Almost one year ago, we celebrated the establishment of marriage equality in all 50 states. This tragedy serves as a solemn reminder that, despite the victories secured by the LGBT community, we must continue our commitment to battling homophobia and hatred in this nation.
  • Rabbi Michael L. Feshbach (Temple Shalom, Chivy Chase, MD)
    How many more mass shootings will it take until we do something sensible about assault weapons and bullets designed to do what this ammunition did? How long will the canard of “they are coming to take your guns away” work to blur the distinction between preserving basic rights to gun ownership  and common sense restrictions supported by law enforcement, military and the vast majority of Americans alike? How many mass shootings have there been using assault weapons since the 2005 expiration of the ban on assault weapons? And has the possession of such weapons served a single positive purpose in any single incident since then?
  • Rabbi Debra Hachen (Temple Beth-El, Jersey City, N.J.)
    We cry with the families in Orlando.
    We cry for the fifty unique souls who have left this world.
    We cry for those who are so blinded by hate that they look for God in the wrong places. God is in the face of each of us - even those who differ from us in religion, color, gender, political beliefs.
  • Rabbi Karyn Kedar (Congregation B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim, Deerfield, IL)
    Lift me, carry me, offer me courage,
    Help me to understand life’s sharpest paradox:
    That to live is both tragic and wonderful
    Painful and awesome, dark and filled with light.
  • Rabbi Zoe Klein (Temple Isaiah, Los Angeles, CA)
    Just as the Israelites, once they were released from slavery, still had many battles to fight, we too have many battles ahead. The battle against Islamic Terrorism. The battle to keep assault weapons out of the hands of people who are bent on murder and destruction.

    We are in a desert. The mountain is in smoke. God is on fire. We are violently trembling. All around us, as Israel knows better than anyone, are camps of people celebrating. Praising the death of innocents.
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda (American actor and composer)
    We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger
    We rise and fall and light from dying embers
    remembrances that hope and love last longer
    And love is love is love is love
    is love is love is love is love
    Cannot be killed or swept aside
    I sing Vanessa's symphony, Eliza tells her story
    Now fill the world with music, love and pride
  • Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner (Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Washington, D.C.)
    On this holiday of Shavuot, we engage in all night study and reflection of the words and lessons of Torah. No lesson is more fundamental than that which teaches that the spark of the Divine is present in every individual - gay and straight, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. In the face of tragedy, let us come together in a spirit of love and compassion for all and work together to create a nation that rejects violence and instead celebrates the holiness of every human being.
  • Rabbi Bradley Solmsen (URJ Director of Youth Engagement, New York, N.Y.)
    I am dumbfounded by the horrific situation we are handing down to our youth. I am ashamed that we, the adults, the experienced leaders, have up to this point failed to provide our youth with a safe place to play, a safe place to worship, a safe place to celebrate their identities, or safe places to learn.

    I stand ready to partner with them and support them to do what we have been unable to do. I hope they know that even though they are younger they still have great power to make change. That throughout our history as Jews and as citizens of the world young people have stood up and said, "enough!" and demanded change. Please know that I am here and so many other adults are here for whenever and whatever you need. The work will be incredibly challenging but it must be done and I believe you are the ones to do it - with God's strength.
  • Rabbi Rachel Timoner (Congregation Beth Elohim, Brooklyn, N.Y.)
    We are beginning to see the pictures of the young people who were killed.  We are beginning to hear their stories. As we see their faces and learn their stories, the question lies open before us: who will we be?  How will we remember them through our actions?  How will we change?

    Judaism is centered on the idea of a great Oneness connecting all that seems disparate, separated, conflicted. We assert in Shema that the response to this Oneness should be love, a love expressed through action.  In response to this tragedy, let us turn toward the other instead of turning away.  Let us insist on policies now that honor and preserve life.  And let us commit ourselves to love.
  • Executive Board of Women of Reform Judaism
    In 1993, at its Biennial Assembly, Women of Reform Judaism passed a resolution calling for gun control. Sadly, the need for the implementation of that resolution and for gun violence prevention measures is even more urgent today. In June, 2013, the WRJ Board of Directors issued a statement following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, reaffirming its commitment to gun violence prevention, citing the danger we all face from the proliferation of guns in America. Tragically, guns continue to proliferate in the United States and the danger of gun violence has never been greater.

I hope you'll leave a comment below with a link to the sermons, articles, and other words that are bringing you comfort in these difficult times.

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