Tree of Life Tragedy
October 29, 2018
Dear Beloved Community,
Eleven members of our family died on Saturday, worshiping on Shabbat and practicing their faith as God had taught them to do. They worshiped in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They were sisters and brothers, life partners, admired leaders and elders, and dear friends; yet their lives were destroyed in a rampage of hatred.
The very name of the Synagogue – Tree of Life – is ironic. The tree of life has traditionally been a binding symbol, central to many religious traditions and symbolic of Divinity and the God-given force of life. Indeed, Muelder Chapel in our own BU School of Theology has a prominent Tree of Life banner, created and gifted to us by one of our alums. In Judaism, the tree of life is symbolic of God’s creative force and also of the Torah. How can such a symbol of life, rooted in Divine creation and binding the human family across our many differences, be associated now with hatred, violence, and fear.
The loss of eleven lives is horrific, and the proximity of this mass slaying to the anniversary of Kristallnacht (November 9-10, 1938) magnifies the sense of tragedy and fear let loose in Pittsburgh. In Kristallnacht, Nazis destroyed synagogues across Berlin and Germany, and approximately 100 people were killed. The systematic oppression and murder of Jews escalated after that, leaving a legacy that brings shame to the whole human family. Now we face another tragedy in the inhuman legacy of attacking synagogues, mosques, LGBTQ people, and people of oppressed races and cultures. We cannot tolerate this as a human family. We are facing the death of our own sisters and brothers, and we are facing the death of our souls.
The magnification of hatred wrought by such devastating acts, and the hate-permitting culture that we have allowed to emerge, cannot continue. We live in a fallen world, but we are not called to fall down in our God-given responsibility to honor the dignity of every single human being and every part of God’s creation. We are called to be present to tragedy and to mourn – to feel the pain and loss, to cry out, and to stand up for our hurting human family.
In these sad days, may you find spaces to mourn and be present with one another; may you find spaces to nourish your souls with the life force that surges through the Tree of Life.
Mary Elizabeth Moore
Dean and Professor of Theology and Education