I’ve never met Joyce Feinberg, 75. I’ve never met her cousin Donna Spiegel either. I’ve never met Donna’s husband, Mitch, also 75, who met Joyce at summer camp when they were six and have been friends ever since.
The Spiegels are Sudburians. They lost their good friend and family member at the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 27. They are in mourning.
I’ve never met new grandfather Daniel Stein, 71; Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, 59 and 54 respectively; family matriarch Rose Mallinger, 97; husband and wife Sylvan and Bernice Simon, 86 and 84, who were married 62 years and died together; dentist Dr. Richard Gottfried, 65; grandfather Irving Younger, 69; or retired accountant Melvin Wax, 88.
I’ve not met any of these people, but I’ve spent the past few days thinking about them. I’ve spent the past few days thinking about their last moments, slaughtered where they stood during a Shabbat service.
It’s important to say their names because they aren’t just faceless victims of yet another angry man with a gun — there are still far, far too many of those around. Those 11 people who were killed (and the six who were injured) were thinking, breathing human beings. Those who died didn’t deserve to leave this world the way they did. Those who survived don’t deserve to live with the injuries they’ve suffered.
And although I am loathe to make my fingers type his name, it is also important to say the name of the man facing 44 charges in connection to the killings. Robert Gregory Bowers. Allegedly he made anti-Semitic statements about genocide and his desire to kill Jewish people during the 20-minute attack.
Bowers is not a monster, though the actions for which he is charged are monstrous. It’s important, I think, not to objectify him nor to transform him into something other than what he is. It isn’t a monster who perpetrated these killings; it was a man.
Daniel Stein, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil and David Rosenthal, Rose Mallinger, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Richard Gottfried, Irving Younger, Melvin Wax. Joyce Feinberg. They — all of them — are us. And so is Robert Gregory Bowers.
We are both the perpetrators and the victims. Bigotry, racism, prejudice: These are human failings. And the tragic massacre that unfolded in Pittsburgh is the terrible symptom of those failings.
But if the synagogue attack is a mark of our weakness, our response should be a measure of our strength. Inclusivity, acceptance, empathy: These are human virtues. In the wake of Pittsburgh, we see — as we have seen in the wake of all such tragedies — those virtues brought to bear.
As a species, we have shown an unwillingness to be ruled by our weaknesses, our flaws. We have challenged ourselves to be better.
In Greater Sudbury, as in communities across Canada, the U.S. and beyond, people are coming together to hold vigils for the victims of Pittsburgh, to show support for and solidarity with those of the Jewish faith.
Repudiating hatred and prejudice is not a single battle, but an ongoing war against the worst parts of ourselves. It’s a fight we must constantly wage as we strive to do better, to be better. That constant striving is a virtue, too, and one of our better qualities. We will not throw up our hands and give in. We can’t. We mustn’t.
Religiously based bigotry is not going away. It ebbs and flows with the times, sometimes fading into the shadows, but always waiting to step back into the light. And in the divisive age we find ourselves — a period marked by the rise of religious and political extremism, an aversion to centrism and rationalism, and a profound dip in the civility of public discourse — we find religious bigotry is on the rise.
Canada may rank in the top 10 among the most socially progressive countries on Earth, but that doesn’t provide the full picture.
Although crimes targeting Muslim people have dropped recently, Statistics Canada says they jumped 253 per cent between 2012 and 2015.
The next year, in 2016, fewer crimes were reported against those of Muslim faith, but more were reported against Jewish people, particularly in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba.
Not only were religiously-motivated crimes found to be rising in that same report, crimes based on race and sexual orientation both rose by double digits over the same period. There are at least 130 active right-wing extremist groups in Canada, a 30-per-cent jump from three years ago (though police find most crimes driven by bigotry are committed by single individuals, not groups).
Technically, most of the crimes committed are not violent. Harassment and threats are more common. However, I would argue that harassment and threats are a kind of emotional violence. They may not leave visible scars, but they certainly leave psychological ones, which can in some ways be worse.
We cannot rest on our laurels. We cannot sit idly by. We must come together — like people will be doing this evening (Nov. 1) at 7 p.m. in Memorial Park or tomorrow at Shaar HaShomayin Synagogue on John Street (though the service is at capacity, we're told) — to repudiate bigotry, to appeal to the angels of our better nature, to stand up for rationalism and unity.
We must — we can — be better. Hatred should find no home here.