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Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, shattered boats, and hope

Pittsburgh's synagogue shooting was this country's worst act of anti-Semitism.

Pittsburgh's synagogue shooting was this country's worst act of anti-Semitism.

Less than a century ago, Minneapolis was known as the anti-Semitic capital of the north.

For Jews, the Twin Cities were hostile, and anti-Semitism—both in daily interaction and in the structures of how the cities operated—was a daily reality. My grandparents (of blessed memory) were restricted in where they could live, what jobs they could get, what schools they could get into. And they lived with daily taunts from shopkeepers and restaurant owners and people in positions of power with taunts of “dirty Jew,” “kike,” and “money grubber.”

In 2018, my grandparents' great-grandchildren are growing up in a very different Twin Cities. On Saturday, a gunman shouting "all Jews must die" carried out the worst episode of anti-Semitism in United States history at a Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh.

The next morning, my children came to their synagogue in south Minneapolis, where they were surrounded by Jews and Muslims and Christians and Buddhists and Sikhs and agnostics and atheists and decent community members of every hue to offer them love and support and tears and compassion. They were literally enveloped by a sea of tears and love, with non-Jewish clergy standing on the perimeter of the sanctuary, visible and present and determined to hold us as we wept.

They heard First Unitarian Universalist Pastor Justin Schroeder proclaim, “We’re gonna love the hell out of the world!” And through trembling and prayer and song, for a brief moment, we felt safe.

But this is not the whole story.

My children—our children—are growing up in a world where gun violence and the callous and craven murder of people in their houses of worship—be they Sikh, African American, or Jewish—is shocking and repugnant, but not surprising. Heart-shattering for sure. But part of the landscape of their youth.

Our kids know anti-Semitism is real and it concerns them. They see it through the lens of understanding police brutality against unarmed African American men, the attacks on trans people and Muslims and Native People and Latinx and migrants and those with disabilities. They recognize that none of us are free until all of us are free.

They know in their bones that the attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh was absolutely an attack on the Jewish people—and was the same attack on the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin and the AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Our children know that unless and until we address bigotry and racism and hatred for all, none of us will be safe.

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There is a story in the Talmud that helps guide our children—and each of us—as we move forward through these moments of agony and suffering. It is a story about a very wise and elderly rabbi, Rabbi Akiva, and his students.

They were traveling by boat from one port to another when the sky suddenly grew dark and threatening. As the winds howled, the waters began to rage and they encountered the storm of a lifetime. One gigantic wave hit the boat and shattered it to pieces far from the shore.

Two days later, people were shocked when they saw the students and their beloved Rabbi Akiva coming in from the sea.

“Rabbi,” they cried at the waterlogged teacher. “How are you alive? How are your students alive?”

Rabbi Akiva smiled tenderly. “You see, when the storm tossed our boat and the waves shattered the wood, we grabbed onto one another, tightly. When one of us got weary or exhausted, the others held them above the water and carried them until we reached the shore.”

We—all of us—need one another. We are facing mighty waves of bigotry and violence, intolerance and cynicism. The way we will make it to shore—the way we will survive and thrive and build a community worthy of our children’s dreams—is to hold on to one another and swim to the shore, together.

May we all hold on and love one another, fiercely.

Rabbi Michael Adam Latz is the senior rabbi at Shir Tikvah synagogue in Minneapolis.