This week is a joyous one for my congregation, as we celebrate our 10th anniversary. But it has been a week of mourning for many. Because during Sunday services last weekend, a gunman entered the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs Texas and killed 26 people and wounded 20 others, using a military-style automatic rifle.
This is not the first mass shooting in a North American house of worship, and it appears that no religious group is safe, as evidenced by other recent mass shootings where people have come together to pray:
- The Islamic Center of Quebec City, 2017 – six dead, 19 injured.
- Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, 2017 – one dead, 9 injured.
- Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2015 – nine dead.
- Overland Park Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom Retirement Center, 2014 – three dead (the shooter intended to kill Jews before he died of emphysema, but all of his victims were Christian).
- Sikh Temple of Wisconsin 2012 –six dead.
- Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, 2008 – two dead, seven injured.
Linking this history with the prevalence of mass shootings in our nation, it is no surprise that churches are trying to discern how to make their sanctuaries both safe and welcoming. Many are contemplating hiring security guards.
We Jews have been grappling with this issue for many, many years. My synagogue hires security guards whenever we have an event or service that is publicized outside the congregation.
Today we are reminded that this need to protect our spiritual homes is not new, as we mark the date of the most dreadful attack on Jewish places of worship in modern history, Kristallnacht.
The name literally means Night of Glass. In English, it’s called The Night of Broken Glass, because when that terrible night was over and dawn broke, the streets of Germany were carpeted with shards of glass.
On the night of November 9-10 in 1938, rioters destroyed 267 synagogues in Germany and Austria, many of which burned throughout the night. Firefighters were instructed to let the fires rage, and only to intervene to prevent the flames from spreading to other buildings. Some 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses were destroyed and looted that night, and many Jewish cemeteries were desecrated.
But despite this and the horrors of the Holocaust, we have continued to build Jewish congregations, to come together for prayer and community, to laugh, study, sing, worship, and celebrate together.
Tonight my synagogue will mark its 10th anniversary. Congregation Kol HaNeshama is widely known in the Sarasota Jewish community for our warmth and our welcoming nature, for opening our arms to everyone who wishes to become a part of our growing, caring congregation.
We know that it is a dangerous world, and that there are people who wish to do others harm. That, unfortunately, is a given. But we are willing to take that chance. Like our neighbors at synagogues, churches, and mosques across the continent, we will join together this weekend to pray, to strengthen our relationships with each other, and confirm our reverence for that which is most sacred.
It will be an especially joyous Shabbat at Kol HaNeshama as we celebrate the founders of our congregation and those who have been a part of the community since the beginning… and everyone who has joined us over this wonderful decade. May we be blessed to continue to go from strength to strength for many years to come.
And my plea — not a prayer, but a demand, from one outraged citizen to our leaders — is for federal and state governments to stop the sale of assault rifles and their ammunition. Not next week or next month, not next year. Right now.