Mayor's Remarks at Tree of Life Vigil - Congregation B'nai Israel
Hundreds of Sacramentans from all religions and backgrounds gathered Monday night at the B’nai Israel Synagogue in a vigil for the 11 congregants murdered at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh:
Below is a full text of my remarks. You also can read the editorial I wrote for the Sacramento Bee here. Here are links to news coverage of the vigil: KCRA, Capital Public Radio, The Sacramento Bee and KOVR.
I walked up to Temple yesterday and saw a San Juan school board member named Paula Villescaz, a young Latina. She was wearing a crossing guard vest and was spending her Sunday morning volunteering, watching out for our congregation and our kids. Her mere act of presence made me and others feel less alone.
Today I was on Sacramento’s leading African American radio station, KDEE, when Aubrey Stone, the station’s owner and a community business leader, politely interrupted the host interviewing me to say to me directly how sorry he was for what happened in Pittsburgh on Saturday. He asked me to tell our community that he and his large audience were there with us all the way. That small gesture also made me feel less alone.
There are so many other examples I have heard about over the past two days. In fact, over the past 48 hours, even though this horrific unacceptable event happened thousands of miles from here, people from all walks of Sacramento life who aren’t Jewish have expressed similar comforts and done many small acts of kindness. We show up for one another, here in Sacramento, for in our city, neighbors always stand by neighbors.
Salom Shalom, a national fellowship started by Muslim and Jewish women, has so many Sacramento members that it now has four separate chapters, on its way to a fifth, because there are too many committed people to always meet in one place. Our Muslim sisters also wore vests over the weekend protecting our congregation.
We are not alone, and while we are all un-speakingly sad and shaken, we are strong beyond measure and resolute in our insistence and commitment that this hate will not stand. Thoughts and prayers for the innocent victims from the Tree of Life are absolutely appropriate but not nearly sufficient.
We will not cower, we will not rationalize, we will not merely pray or wish it away. This murderous act of anti-Semitism, just like the murder of African American church goers in Kentucky or Charleston or like the massacre of our LGBT brothers and sisters in Orlando, must be called out for what it is.
It’s a sickness in our country, it’s a sickness in our culture – its origins are as old as the day but its ugliness creeps above ground more often these days and with not nearly enough shock or revulsion. It shouldn’t take another mass murder to say and mean that enough is truly enough.
It is not a partisan act to declare that words, especially from the powerful, in fact have great power to influence action.
The emancipation proclamation and the Gettysburg address were beautiful words but only mattered because those words motivated powerful actions which ended the scourge of slavery.
The antithesis of an eloquent call to action – is a deliberate provocation to incite and divide.
It is not a partisan act to admit that people bent on violence often act when they are told again and again that political opponents are enemies – that immigrants are criminals – and that those who espouse white supremacy are still good people.
How shall we direct our words and emotions?
I wrote yesterday that our country is in need of healing and that healing must be driven, sustained and amplified by our nation’s leaders. But it is more than our nation’s leaders, it is all of us.
We must translate understandable fear into action, anger and frustration into the change we want to see – we must elevate our commitment to speaking up, speaking out, treating one another with kindness and good hearts – and always, always standing up when others are harmed by hate or intolerance. Feat and anger only take us so far, and not nearly far enough.
The alleged killer was apparently contorted by the fact that the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society —which was started in 1881 by Jews —has helped four and a half million people, Jews and non-Jews alike, fleeing oppressed lands to come to America. Over the past 20 years, its work has primarily been on behalf of non-Jews.
I’m proud of the fact that the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society’s values are Sacramento values.
We welcome the stranger. There is no other, we were all once on the other side of that unknown abyss wondering will I too be welcomed? The answer in our city is always yes.
Sacramento stands up every time – for our city, and for each other.