There are no words left. Our prayers are overwhelmed by horror and outrage. Another mass shooting… as I write this, nineteen children are reported slaughtered along with two adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. And this comes just ten days after ten people in a grocery store were murdered by a single individual; targeted by an eighteen-year-old with a hateful ideology in his mind and a weapon of war in his hands. In Buffalo, they were selected for death because they were Black. In 2019 a single murderer targeted twenty-three with the same mix of hatred and weaponry, in that case for being Hispanic. Now we see children being murdered for what? For being children? With the Psalmist, I cry “How long, oh Lord; will you ignore me forever?” (13:2) How long must we endure what cannot be endured, explained, understood or allowed. We have prayed, we have wept, we have held our families close. It is not enough.
It is time for action.
The problem is local as well as national. We are not immune. This year, Oregon is projected to have 210 people fatally shot, the largest number recorded. We have already seen four mass shootings in our state in 2022, with an average of seven per year. This is not normal, or inevitable. We have to stand up and say “Enough!”
Right now, Oregon is on the precipice of being a leader in the nation on Gun Violence Prevention. Congregation Beth Israel has already endorsed legislation which will make a difference for our state and be an inspiration to the nation. Lift Every Voice Oregon, an organization of religious leaders and others, has proposed a law to require a permit to purchase guns and a limiting of high-capacity magazines in our state. These are seen as two of the most effective policies to reduce gun violence. This law would prevent the rapid purchase of weapons, as we saw in Buffalo, Charleston and many other mass murders, and ensure that they are kept out of the hands of those who should not have them. I am one of the three Chief Petitioners on this effort. Our Temple’s Social Action Committee has been active in collecting the needed 140,000 signatures to get this initiative petition (IP17) onto the November ballot.
But the deadline is fast approaching, and we are far short of our goal. With COVID restrictions, it has been hard to gather signatures. Now, as people are gathering in greater numbers, we have to sprint to the finish. We need hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteer signature gatherers to join the effort over the next few days and weeks. We need extensive funds to pay for the signature gatherers who are not volunteers. This is the time to make a difference.
We cannot let despair lead us to inaction. We cannot treat these mass murders as if they are unavoidable. They are not. Guns are far too readily available in our state and in our nation. And we have to show with our efforts that we have more than words
When there are no words, there must be action. Please join me.
–Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana
Reading the Supreme Court’s leaked opinion that is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade made my blood boil. I’m angry. As a rabbi, the idea that to be religious one must be anti-abortion is incorrect on every level and reflects a high level of ignorance for both religious diversity and human complexity. This is a religious stance that Judaism does not recognize, and a definition of life that Judaism does not abide by. To quote my colleague Rabbi Rachel Bearman:
“The Jewish tradition has more than two thousand years of precedent to offer this conversation- the vast majority of which states clearly that the person who is pregnant is a full life and that the fetus she carries is considered to be a part of her body until it is delivered and is separate from its mother. Within Judaism, the idea that a fetus is not a nefesh, a soul, until it is born is not a contemporary innovation. In fact, it is clearly established in the Torah, Mishnah and Talmud. The idea that those who seek to deny women the right to make their own decisions would justify their machinations with the language of religion infuriates me.”
Though Judaism is historically, profoundly, patriarchal, it has asserted at numerous times throughout our history that human dignity is among its very highest values — while also emphasizing that bodily autonomy is a critical piece of what it means to be made in the image of God. To therefore use “Biblical authority” to undermine women’s dignity and autonomy is itself a form of blasphemy.
So, now what?
Now, we act. Now, we must exercise our voice!
Oregon has the fewest legal restrictions in place for people seeking abortion care because in Oregon, we trust women to make the best decisions for themselves and their families and elect leaders committed to protecting reproductive freedom and health care. But we cannot take that for granted. Every vote matters.
Tomorrow is election day. State and local elections matter now more than ever. Oregon must continue to elect leaders that will defend access to abortion and seek to expand it. There are anti-abortion candidates on the ballot. We must stay informed. We must remain vigilant.
Nationally, in 2020, Congregation Beth Israel joined with the URJ and RAC campaign “Every Voice, Every Vote,” an effort expanding voter participation and civic engagement, especially among populations historically disenfranchised, and in geographic areas with a history of voter suppression. Many of our members participated tirelessly in Every Voice, Every Vote ahead of the 2020 General Election. We wrote postcards, did phone and text banking, and even made supportive videos.
The virtual URJ launch of the 2022 Every Voice, Every Vote Campaign is happening TOMORROW, Tuesday, May 17th at 5pm. Please join and get involved!
Yes, I’m still angry and that anger fuels my action. One of the best ways to make change and to advocate for abortion access is to vote!
—Rabbi Rachel L. Joseph
Dear Congregants of Congregation Beth Israel,
Earlier today we learned that an arrest has been made in the anti-Semitic incidents on our campus. Through diligent efforts by various branches of law enforcement, it was determined that a single individual was responsible for spray painting a Nazi referenced death threat on the outside of our sanctuary, an attempted arson at the Muslim Community Center of Portland, breaking a window at the Eastside Jewish Commons/Shir Tikvah and throwing a large rock through the window of the library on our campus. The alleged perpetrator of these crimes committed over several days was arrested this morning and is in custody at the Multnomah County Detention Center.
State charges have been brought and we are told that further charges, including Federal Hate crimes, could be forthcoming.
We are grateful to the Portland Police Bureau, Portland Fire & Rescue Investigation Unit, and the Beaverton Police, as well as the involvement of the FBI, US Attorney General’s office and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office, among others, who are investigating these crimes. Being a part of the Secure Community Network has kept us all informed and connected, and we are grateful to our Regional Security Advisor, Jessica Anderson, for her efforts. Thank you also to our Facilities Manger Dallas Van Winkle for preserving the crime scene on our campus. We are told this provided important evidence.
Should the alleged perpetrator be found guilty of these crimes, we can all rest easier in our house of worship knowing that he is in custody. Although the crimes committed were against property, we know that left unchecked, hate speech can lead to violence. We are grateful that we are all safe.
This series of events, which has shaken our community, is an important reminder that even incidents which seem random and unrelated or too minor to bother with, should be properly reported. We are all responsible for one another.
Our congregation is also grateful for the outpouring of support we have received this week, from political and religious leaders and from ordinary people appalled at the actions of a very few. We feel the support and know that we are not alone. We all stand together against hate.
–Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana
Dear Congregants of Congregation Beth Israel,
As you may know from media reports, last night our historic sanctuary was marked with a hateful anti-Semitic slogan. There was also minor fire damage, which is something we have seen before. However, having this Nazi referenced statement spray-painted in yellow on our building, just a few days after we commemorated Yom HaShoah pains my heart. I wish we could live only in the world where we honor our Holocaust survivors and hear the beautiful music of the choirs from Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and the Pacific Youth Choir fill our space. I wish we could only live in the world where we come together no matter our background to face our past and promise Never Again. But the world won’t let us stay there. We are reminded that hatred and intolerance continue to infect our world. We must call out hate speech against ourselves and against others so that everyone can feel safe in their homes, in their schools, in their work and in their houses of worship.
Thank G-d no one was hurt in last night’s incident and the physical damage to our campus is minimal. But the damage to our sense of safety is harmed. For that, we will work with the police, the FBI, and other law enforcement agencies to apprehend those responsible and to ensure this incident is not repeated.
We will not be deterred. We will not be made to feel unsafe in our own house of worship. We are not the slaves of Egypt but a free people, confident and sure.
That is the best response to hatred in the past and in the present. Like those who came before us to proudly build the sanctuary we enjoy after suffering a devastating anti-Semitic arson which destroyed their previous building, we proclaim: we are here.
We shall not fear.
–Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana