Archive for October, 2018





The past few days have been filled with emotions.  I know many of my fellow Jews are travelling this path.  I will share mine in what I hope is a larger context.

The first is anger.  I am angry that the violent anti-Semitism we saw in Paris just a few years ago, is now present in our own country.  I am angry that the racism and bigotry based violence done in the Mother Emanuel Church has gotten worse, not better.  I am angry that our political leaderships’ tone of words encourages hatred instead of caring.  I am angry that anti-Semitic actions, according to the Anti-Defamation League, have risen dramatically since 2016.  The slaughter of 11 at the Tree of Life synagogue is the worst anti-Semitic episode in American history.  I am angry and I am sure most of my fellow Jews are angry.

I feel despair. Pittsburgh was my home for the 4 years I went to the University of Pittsburgh.  Squirrel Hill, that historic Jewish neighborhood, is a place where close friends of mine from college grew up.  It is a place I went to go to synagogue, to the movies, to eat at a Jewish deli.  But my deeper despair is connected to my dad, Rudi Romberg, a Jewish refugee from Germany barely making it to America in September of 1939.  From the time I was 6 or 7 years old, dad taught me what he had suffered in Germany.  He wanted to make sure that as a Jew, I could never, ever behave like a Nazi, to have any kind of bigotry.  He taught me how much he loved our country as a place of freedom.  Yes, dad experienced some anti-Semitism even in America.  When we lived in Fairmont, W.VA in the 1950’s my parents were denied membership in a social club because they were Jews.  But the friends who sponsored them resigned in protest.  Dad fought for the United States in World War II.  I am in despair because the country dad loved and taught me to love is not the country we are becoming.  I feel despair and I am sure most of my fellow Jews feel despair as well.

I feel fear.  First I was fearful for a longtime friend of mine from college, a former roommate, who lives in Pittsburgh.  He is extremely active in the Jewish community there, a key member of the Chevra Kadishah, the group that provides traditional Jewish rituals for those who die.  He was married in the synagogue where the shooting took place.  I was relieved when I called him Saturday afternoon and heard he was safe, but fearful of friends he knew were at the synagogue that morning. I am fearful for the safety of my congregation here in Tallahassee.  It only takes one crazy bigot, who can live anywhere, to create a disaster.  I am fearful for the world in which my grandchildren are growing up.  I feel fear and I am sure most of my fellow Jews feel fear.

I feel tearful. Yesterday I heard from my college friend that four of the 11 Jews killed were his friends.  But feeling tearful is not only the result of hearing bad news. It is also the result of experiencing the caring of others.  Yesterday, as I spoke to my dear friends, Father Dave Killeen and Pastor Betsy Oulette Zierden, I shed tears from the caring they expressed.  As I saw the messages coming to me from a member of St. John’s, setting up child care for tonight and help in organizing parking, I became tearful.  In speaking to the new Tallahassee city manager, Reese Goad,hearing his true caring and concerns as he arranged police protection for Temple Israel, my eyes filled with tears.  Yesterday, when I went to thank the policeman in our parking lot and heard him express his dedication to doing whatever was necessary to help us, I became tearful. And my wife will tell you, that when I finally came home yesterday afternoon, I sat down and cried, because of the combination of the memories of my dad and the caring outreach from this beautiful city – from people at all levels.  I am tearful and I am sure my fellow Jews feel tearful as well.

I feel love.  I feel the love of the huge number of you in this room who are not Jewish, who are Christian, who are Muslim.  I feel the love of those who are local leaders or everyday citizens.  I feel the love of clergy colleagues.  I feel the love of the Pittsburgh Muslim community, who in 24 hours raised 70 thousand dollars to pay for the funerals of the victims.  I feel the love in person, on social media, through emails, messages and phone calls.  I feel love and I pray that my fellow Jews will feel that love as well.

Now I feel another emotion – determination.  I am determined to live as my dad lived – to NEVER give up my Judaism, to never be afraid to be at synagogue with my fellow Jews, to show those who are attempting to scare us from our commitment their attempt is a failure.  Even more important, I am determined to stand against all forms of bigotry.  If you are African American I stand with you in your fight.  If you are Muslim I stand with you.  If you are Hispanic or Asian I stand with you.  If you are a refugee or an immigrant I stand with you.  It is important to note the killer in Pittsburgh posted his objection to the Tree of Life synagogue participating in initiatives led by HIAS – the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society – which provides aids to all immigrants and refugees.  Please note that last weekend, Temple Israel participated in the HIAS Shabbat to honor immigrants.  Most of all, I am determined to urge everyone to stand together and oppose all forms of bigotry.  I am determined to urge everyone to show love not hate to each other.  I am determined to convert my moment of anger from Saturday, into a life of commitment to justice and love.  I pray all will do the same.

It says in our traditional text from Pirkei Avot, Al shelosha devarim ha’olam omeid, “On three things the world stands.”  Al hatorah, v’al ha’avodah, v’al gemilut chasadim, “On the Torah, on service, and on acts of loving kindness.  The Torah represents the words and commandments of God.  The service means serving God through prayer.  And acts of loving kindness, of course is what the first two should be driving us to do, as God wants us to love and care for each other, for we must “love our neighbor as ourselves.”

I pray to God for all of the following:

Help us to lose our anger.

Help us to overcome our despair

Help us change fear of what is happening in life, to reverence for life.

Help us turn our tears of sadness to tears of joy.

Help us embrace each other with love.

Help us have the determination to stand for justice, to oppose all bigotry, and to truly understand each other.

As it says in Psalm 29: Adonai oz l’amo yetein, May God give strength to all of God’s people.  Adonai y’vareich et amo vashalom,  May God bless all of us with the gift of peace. May we all say, Amen

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