This speech was given on Friday, June 19th, before Shabbat at a prayer vigil at Varick Memorial AME Church in Hamden, CT.
From the Prophet Isaiah: Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil.
Hatred of the other has no explanation and no excuse. What happened in Charleston, in a historic black church is pure evil. When our holy places, whether churches or synagogues or Buddhist temples or mosques are the scenes of massacre and death, when blood is shed on the floors, the pews, the sacred books, the garments of our spiritual leaders and the congregants, we dare not offer apologetics or excuses. God teaches us how we should behave... the prophet says "this is the way, walk in it." Walk with righteousness, with compassion. Walk with dignity, with resolve, with steadfastness. Walk with courage.
As we stand here together in horror at the unspeakable act that took place in Charleston, South Carolina. We stand in solidarity with those whose fathers and mothers were killed. We stand in unity with the people of South Carolina. We stand with all of you who are shocked by such devastating news of a terrifying assault in a church, with echoes of the bombing that killed 4 young black schoolgirls in Birmingham, Alabama 50 years ago.
Today we are in the embrace of people of different creeds and colors, and for fleeting moments we believe that we shall "obtain joy and gladness and our sorrow and sighing shall flee away" as the man of God, Isaiah said. Dr. King too believed "that God still has a way of wringing good out of evil."
At the funeral for 3 of the children killed in that bombing, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: These martyred heroines have something to say to each of us in their death. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.
Only a few months ago, hatred walked into a synagogue in Har Nof, in the holy city of Jerusalem - carrying machetes to hack worshippers to death as they said the morning prayers, wrapped in their prayer shawls and their tefilllin. In a sanctuary. In a place of refuge. In a haven, with the Torah in the Ark.
They were men of learning, of good deeds, with families, with students. But the butcher killed them with the height of depravity because they were... Jewish. And I wept.
And Wednesday evening, a young man of 21, joined a group in a prayer circle studying the Bible. He sat with them. They were teachers, choir singers, counselors and an elderly sexton...good men and women; people with names, good deeds, and families. And that young man sat there looking at them but he did not see that they were made in the divine image. He didn't truly see them at all. He saw only the color of their skin. And the shooter killed them one by one in a monstrous act.
Let us say it out loud... this was racism. And we wept.
"After the Holocaust", Theodor Adorno, a German philosopher said "there can be no poetry". Last night, our American philosopher, Jon Stewart, said: after Charleston there can be no jokes.
Not today. Not tomorrow. But there must be poetry, and laughter, songs, dance and concerts, children and love. Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, says the Lord.
And then we - who mourn together tonight, who cry tears at the injustice, who cannot fathom how such things can happen 150 years after the end of the Civil War. After tonight we must band together again, in support not only of expressing our deep sorrow but to effect change.
Again from Isaiah: "Who shall I send, who will go for us?" says the Lord. "Hineni" says Isaiah. Here I am! Send me.
Hineni! Here we are - black and white together, Christians and Jews, believers and non believers, young and old. Send us! For it is only through our actions that we will ever see a time when we shall have peace.
The prophet says "The moon shall shine like the sun, and the sun's light will be seven times brighter, like the light of the seven days when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds that were inflicted. For the Lord shall be thy everlasting light and the days of mourning shall be ended."
Hineni, it is our time to answer the call. May we all experience the peace of the Sabbath. God bless you.
Sydney A. Perry