December 2015 scroll article

 I believe very strongly that the free exercise of religion is a personal right, and that one’s religious practices and beliefs should not be controlled by anyone other than the individual. But, in the wake of the Paris attacks, I feel compelled to confront some of the reactions I have seen in various news and social media outlets. There has been a growing fear of Islam that has taken a stranglehold on us and has turned our language from that of reason and understanding to that of hateful rhetoric. We need to remember: terrorism has no religion. 
           For millennia, human beings have exploited religion for their own gain; no religion is immune to fanaticism. Christianity has been used to justify the atrocities of the Crusades, the Inquisition, even the Holocaust. Yigal Amir, an Israeli Jew assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, corrupting religious teaching for the sake of political violence and Baruch Goldstein, an American-Israeli Jew, massacred Muslims in the midst of prayer. No religion is immune to these corruptions, and it is wrong to persecute an entire religion for the evil acts of hateful individuals.
            Unfortunately, Muslim, Arab, and terrorist have all been conflated to the point where our own fears turn us into the same bigots we preach others not to be. That is the goal of these terrorists: to stoke our own xenophobic energies, so that we turn against those who are victims, making the already oppressed more susceptible to fanatical manipulation. The leaders behind ISIS, ISIL, Hezbollah, Al Quaeda, Hamas, are terrorists and bullies in the worst sense. They hide behind religious language and trappings but unleash the opposite of what true religion and faith should embody.  In responding to these attacks and these groups, we have to find approaches that stand up to the violence, turn back the senseless hatred, but don’t lead us to undermine our own pursuit of kindness and peace.
 As those who study Torah, the entire body of Jewish scripture and law, we are commanded to pursue justice: tzedek, tzedek tirdof. How is justice being served if we turn away and vilify Syrian refugees, who have suffered the loss of family, friends, home and country? I am reminded of the voyage of the St. Louis in 1939, when the United States and Cuba turned away an ocean liner of Jewish refugees and sent them back to Germany to die. What does it say about us if we do the same thing again?
No matter what our political, or religious affiliation may be, we have to resist playing into the fear and ignorance so prevalent around us, because it so quickly turns into aggression and hate.  May we emulate G-d’s strength as we say in the Tefilah: someich noflim, support the fallen, v’rofeh cholim, heal the sick, u’matir asurim, and free the captive. 
Cantor Dannah Rubinstein