A Message from Rabbi Emeritus Alan Fuchs

As we sang at the Interfaith Vigil on Sunday night, Rabbi Emeritus and past Pittsburgh rabbi Alan Fuchs asks “If not now, tell me when,” in this reflection– Rabbi Maderer

This past week should be a wake-up call for all of us. It is clear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we now have an atmosphere of hate in this country.  The threat of violence (bombs and tweets) and the murders that have occurred, in the African American community and in the Jewish community, were completely predictable.  I alluded to it all in my sermons of the past three years.

So here we are – a major congregation in Philadelphia and in the Reform movement, and what do we do?.  I write this as a rabbi-emeritus of Rodeph Shalom, so you may agree or disagree, but I do not speak for the congregation or its clergy or leadership.

It is my firm belief that we are living through a period that closely resembles Germany in the 1930’s. Tragically, the Jews of Germany and the world believed this was just another blip in the arc of history. We know it was not. When I see the Trump rallies and the people behind him reveling in the language of violence that is a part of every such gathering, my heart and mind tell me that all that is missing is the sig heil salute of Nazi Germany. It is a frightening scene.

What more do we need to confirm those fears than the slaughter of eleven worshippers at Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill? Many years ago I served as rabbi of Temple Sinai in Pittsburgh, just blocks from that murder scene.  I am intimately familiar with a neighborhood that is rich with Jewish culture, and that is tolerant of racial, religious and cultural diversity. It is welcoming of the stranger. And yet – a resident of the city, inspired by the language of hate of the stranger coming directly from the White House, decided to take matters into his own hands and stop the immigrant, stop the decades of good and inclusive work by HIAS, and kill the Jews.

These murders have not in any way changed the language or the intent of Donald Trump. He may claim not to be anti-Semitic because he has Jewish family, but that does not stop his xenophobic speeches and his constant appeal to the white nationalists who support his cause. They will take his words as a blueprint for action, while he will try to deny this responsibility. Only we can hold him accountable. Only we can change the direction of the country. If we do not act, think of 1933 (Hitler’s rise to power) and 1935 (the Nuremberg laws) and 1938 (kristallnacht), and the ashes of the death camps. Some of those ashes are housed below the floor of a memorial building at Yad VaShem in Jerusalem, as an eternal reminder of the consequences of inaction.

Your clergy have spoken with moral clarity, from the bimah, in writing and in their actions. It is time, perhaps past time, that we join with them and that we say with unanimity, “never again”, not here, not now, not ever. This is not political or partisan. It is human. It is Jewish. We remind ourselves that we were strangers in the land of Egypt every Passover. It provides us with a moral imperative – to welcome the stranger, to not build walls, to not teach hate or fear of the “other.” At this moment in our history it gives us an urgent command – to correct what has become a hate-filled leadership in our country. Pirkei Avot says it well – “If not now, when?”


Rabbi Alan D. Fuchs