Josh Parkes, of Glendale, has an observation after attending several gatherings in the wake of tragedy.
In October of 2012, I drove with my son across town to the Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin in Brookfield. There we donned the courtesy head coverings, accepted our candles, and stood with a couple thousand others to mourn the loss of six lives at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek to a white supremacist terrorist. As we stood there together, my son in his Cub Scout uniform (we came straight from a den meeting) and I in the uniform of an aging-punk-rocker-turned-dad, a young Sikh man looked at us. “Thank you for coming,” he said, somewhat haltingly.
“We wouldn’t be anywhere else,” I answered. “We’re Jewish. We know what it’s like to have someone come into your house with murder in their heart.”
Six years later, almost to the day, we gathered again. This time at Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid in Glendale to mourn the murder of 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh at the hands of another white supremacist terrorist.
Again, in March of 2019, we gathered at the Islamic Society of Milwaukee on the south side to mourn the 51 lives lost at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, New Zealand. Again, murdered by a white supremacist terrorist.
There was a pattern emerging, but not the obvious one.
At all three vigils, clergy of all faiths, elected officials and select speakers each reminded us of the power of love. We nodded through our tears and agreed; we would stand with each other, we would fight the good fight, love would eventually triumph over hate. But at last month’s gathering I realized there was something missing. Love is not the answer, at least not entirely. With all due respect to John Lennon and my own wedding song, love is in fact not all we need. We need something that went largely unsaid, something that at once transcends and results of love.
As my wife and I stood in the vestibule of the Islamic Center waiting for her Muslim friend from university, we chatted with the woman greeting visitors. Our people have to stop meeting this way, we joked. “We all need to get together and share some food,” said my wife. It would be preferable, we agreed, if our communities could do it sometime not because of a tragedy but just … because.
It is one thing to love your neighbor, to show your love during hardship, and another thing to stop what you’re doing and simply talk to them.
There are, of course, many wonderful organizations working on building this friendship. Hours Against Hate of Milwaukee Jewish Federation brings people of all backgrounds together to work on projects that serve the community and build bridges. In my own synagogue, the Congregation Sinai Social Justice Committee hosts pot luck dinners for Jewish and Muslim women. I wonder though what the rest of the congregation can do. I will certainly bring it up with our rabbi. But there’s more.
What can we as individuals do?
It is time to take that deep breath and extend our hand to the other, to smile and hug, to learn each other’s names, to break bread and praise our children. Together.
Not just because we have common foes.
Not just because we have common humanity.
Not just because it is long overdue.