Dear Temple Emamu-El Community,

This Shabbat we will be observing Transgender Day of Remembrance, an event that occurs each Nov 20th and has begun to enter the American Jewish calendar as well. There are a number of reasons for this, the most obvious being the need to acknowledge and honor the experience of Trans Jews. But another and equally important reason is because, as Jews, we know that our fate is tied up with that of any marginalized group. When the rights and dignity of any person or group are denied, the implication is that they are somehow less fully human and our history teaches us all too clearly how dangerous that view is for everyone.

This lesson was brought home to me last weekend when I learned that hateful graffiti had been sprayed over a Black Lives Matter mural in Corn Hill. In the middle of the defacement was a swastika and on either side messages aimed specifically against both Jews and Blacks. The community group whose building was targeting, The Flying Squirrel, asked for responses to be sent to the local media and what follows is the statement I prepared:

In 1883, in response to rising antisemitic violence in Europe, the Jewish author Emma Lazarus declared, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” The hateful graffiti which defaced the Flying Squirrel’s Black Lives Matter mural is yet another reminder that the fates of oppressed and marginalized communities are intertwined. It was not coincidental that the two specific groups targeted by the perpetrators were Blacks and Jews. The foundation of white Christian supremacist ideology is a virulent mix of racism and antisemitism, in which a Jewish conspiracy is believed to underwrite and organize freedom movements for people of color. Those who deny the full humanity of Blacks and Jews also attack Muslims, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants and anyone else who does not accord with their vision of a heteronormative white Christian America.

Acts such as the mural’s desecration are intended to make us fearful. I have to admit they succeed when I think about the fact that they represent the tip of an iceberg of hatred lying beneath the surface of our community. They also bring up previous acts of violence, re-awakening traumatic memories shared beyond lifetimes. But I believe that we have the choice to act out of hope and love rather than despair and hate. In fact, we must. Based on his understanding of the Hindu sacred text, the Bhagavad Gita, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

In Jewish tradition, love is expressed through action. It is not enough to think well of others in the abstract; we are obligated to behave in ways that demonstrate that regard. As we consider our response to this attack, let us begin by re-affirming our commitment to act in solidarity with one another and to the foundational belief that “until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

Rabbi Drorah Setel