The Jewish Studies Program at Vassar College expresses our deep sympathy with the families of the victims murdered while at prayer at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Although the perpetrator was known to be a vicious anti-Semite, we cannot fail to note that his motives for this horrible act, as voiced in his public social media postings, were to protect “our people” from the slaughter he asserted was about to be perpetrated by “hostile invaders” with the support of the Jewish Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).
Most Jews in this country directly descend from refugees, most fleeing the places of their births under the most dire of circumstances, having faced the most hostile of oppression. Were it not for HIAS literally rescuing men women and children from the jaws of death, America would not have been blessed and enriched by the talent, resourcefulness and patriotism of Jewish immigrants. Recognizing this, HIAS and others have fought—often against the tide of prejudice that has ever opposed them—to support, aid, assist, and otherwise give succor to refugees and immigrants from all countries and cultures who have sought refuge in the United States.
Words matter. The anti-immigrant, anti-refugee rhetoric that has become increasingly commonplace in the US is at the root—the font and origin—of real actions in the real world, not only against vulnerable refugees, but against people seeking only to worship in synagogues, churches, mosques and other holy places, and people gathering together on behalf of those who seek only to find a better life on these shores.
We unanimously condemn this heinous act of anti-Semitic violence.
May we be blessed by the memory of the victims, may they be bound up in the bond of life.
May peace prevail, and and may America once again be a refuge for all who seek it.
לָכֵן בַּעַל הָרַחֲמִים יַסְתִּירֵהם בְּסֵתֶר כְּנָפָיו לְעוֹלָמִים
וְיִצְרֹר בִּצְרוֹר הַחַיִּים אֶת נִשְׁמָתם
וְיָנוּחַוּ בְּשָׁלוֹם עַל מִשְׁכָּבם
Therefor, may the Master of Mercies protect them
in the shelter of the wings of the Divine Presence
and may they be bound up in the bond of life
and rest in peace in their resting place.
-Jewish Funeral Liturgy