“We Can Be Better Than This”

Published: November 1, 2018

By Jim Lichtman
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Times of crisis call forth a leader among us who, through their compassion and wisdom, can help both comfort and unite.

Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers is doing just that by not only tending to the needs of his own community but offering a broader message to us all.

CNN’s Alisyn Camerota spoke to Rabbi Myers on Monday morning (Oct. 29), and again the following day (Oct. 30), as a result of viewers who were moved by his words. What follows is a distillation of the two interviews.

CAMEROTA: What are you telling your congregation today about what happened this weekend?

MYERS: I don’t have a specific congregation message. I’m regrettably active, engaged with all of these families because I have seven congregants I have to bury.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Do you blame anyone for what happened there at the Tree of Life beyond the gunman?

MYERS: I don’t really foist blame upon any person. Hate does not know religion, race, creed, political party. It’s not a political issue in any way, shape, or form. Hate does not know any of those things. It exists in all people.

CAMEROTA: … What lights the match of hate?

MYERS: I think you’re raising one of those great questions that people far smarter than I can answer, but I do recall this. If we look in the Bible after the story of the flood and Noah, God regretfully says to Noah, I have learned that man from his youth is prone to evil, which you would think is a horrific thing for God to tell us. The message I get from that is, yes, there is the possibility of hate in all people, but there’s also the possibility of good, and good will always win out over hate if we let it in each of us.

And I have seen so much good these past two days, the e-mails, the texts. When I went home last night, I think I finally cleared out from my phone, my e-mails, I woke up this morning. I had 399 e-mails. These are strangers, people I’ve never met from around the world, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, every religion, people just pouring out their hearts in giving support. And it shows me that good will always win out over evil. …  we are a Tree of Life and, as I’ve said before to many, you can cut off some branches from our tree, but Tree of Life has been in Pittsburgh for 154 years. We’re not going anywhere. We will rebuild, and we will be back stronger and better than ever. I will not let hate close down my building.

CAMEROTA: … President Trump has talked about coming to Pittsburgh and coming to your synagogue in the aftermath of this. Do you want him to come?

MYERS: The president of the United States is always welcome. I’m a citizen. He’s my president. He is certainly welcome.

CAMEROTA: The ADL tells us that anti-Semitic incidents, violence, threats, hate speech have gone up 57 percent just since 2016. Did you fear that something like this could ever happen at your synagogue?

MYERS: I never thought this could happen in my synagogue ever.

CAMEROTA: Have you felt the rise of anti-Semitic incidents?

MYERS: I’ve experienced anti-Semitism my whole life in one form or another. I just never thought it could reach this level that someone could take into their own hands and make a decision that they needed to murder Jews. That concerns me, not just as a Jew, because it wasn’t just an attack upon the Jewish community, this was an attack upon America. This gunman made it clear that people anywhere that wish to worship need to be concerned because this challenged our freedom of worship.

CAMEROTA: And so what will change, Rabbi, now? …

MYERS: I can tell you that security will be of the utmost concern, as we rebuild, as we examine our future, where we’re going, that synagogues, and not just mine, but throughout the United States, are going to have to reexamine their security. It’s a big challenge I think for all houses of worship in the United States. We’ve just not only have felt it. Charleston has felt it as well. How do you keep your doors open to welcome all who are in need yet simultaneously keep all, who are in need, safe? … Big, big question.

CAMEROTA: I think we all wonder that, obviously, in this time of threats and violence and crime. And of course, we look to our leaders to give us comfort during that time, and we look to our religious leaders, like you.

And so what do you say to your congregants? What do you say to the country? How are we supposed to make sense of everything that’s happened in the past week?

MYERS: Sense, I haven’t come [up with] an answer yet, but I can say this, and this has been my message since this horrific incident. Words of hate must cease. …

I said to our elected leaders that “You’re our leaders. We turn to you. You’re the models for our country. When you speak words of hate, when you speak ill of the other candidate, any words of hate, Americans listen to you. They get their instructions from you. When you speak words of hate, you say to them, ‘This is OK. You can do it, as well.’ ”

So, I turn to all of our elected leaders, because hate doesn’t know a political party. Hate is not blue; hate is not red; hate is not purple. Hate is in all. I turn to them to say tone down the hate, speak words of love, speak words of decency and of respect. When that message comes loud and clear, Americans will hear that, and we can begin to change the tenor of our country.

CAMEROTA: From your lips to our leaders’ ears, Rabbi.

I’ve heard that you’ve taken some heat for saying that President Trump is welcome in your synagogue. What do you say to people who criticize you for opening your doors to the president at this time?

MYERS: When I first said that the president was welcome, I’ve received a lot of e-mail, too numerous to count. …

The thing that saddens me is those e-mails also contain hate. And it just continues in this vicious cycle, hate promulgating more hate, promulgating more hate; and that’s just not the solution. We need to be better than this. We can be better than this.

CAMEROTA: …how do you break that cycle of hate?

MYERS: … I think it just comes one person at a time.

The — I don’t think there’s a magic solution to breaking hate. I think every human being has the capability of being evil and of being good. They make a personal choice which direction they want to go. I’ve made the choice, and some say rather naively, but I’ve made the choice that good will always win out and that this is not about any one person. This is about hate, and that good must win. The alternative, I don’t want to think about.

CAMEROTA: Do you plan to see President Trump during his visit today?

MYERS: I have no plans at this time for any involvement. My attention will be with the family. I have a funeral; and I must tend to their needs, and that’s where my attention is focused.

CAMEROTA: If you do see him, what message will you give to him?

MYERS: The same message I just shared with you.

We are already better. The Muslim community has already raised more than $222,000.00 to help victims and families.


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