Last week, a Torah scribe from Florida visited the Tri-State area. Rabbi Yochanan Salazar checked and repaired Torah scrolls at a Reform congregation in Wheeling, W.Va., and Conservative and Orthodox congregations in Pittsburgh.
To Salazar, who grew up Conservative and is now Orthodox, it didn’t matter to what stream each congregation belonged, only that their Torahs were kosher. To that end, he treated each house of worship, and its members, with respect.
That was the good news from last week. Sadly, there was some bad news as well. And it came out of Israel.
On Jan. 29, a Reform synagogue in Kehillat Raanan, called Beit Shmueli, was desecrated. Graffiti was spray-painted across its facade.
This is not the first time this particular synagogue has been hit. Several times in the past four years it has been vandalized, its walls damaged and its windows broken.
This time, the graffiti came in the form of two spray-painted citations — Maimonides’ “Laws of Repentance” Chapter III, 14, and Psalm 139: 21-22. In case you’re not familiar with these passages, here they are.
From Maimonides: “None of them have a place in the World to Come, even though they are Jews. They are cut down and lost and doomed by the size of their wickedness forever and ever … infidels, unbelievers in Torah … sinners in the many ways of public dissent … Murderers and terrifying the public … Done but not over.”
And from Psalms: “Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.”
To quote another message, this one from Rabbi Bennett Miller, chair of ARZA, the Reform Zionist organization, in condemning the desecration:
“It particularly saddens us to witness an attack of hatred as the message of our movement is that of love, respect and the right of every human being to freedom of expression, religion and speech. It is a terrible statement that those who espouse Jewish values and claim to uphold Judaism do so through violence and desecration.”
But we prefer the words of Rabbi Tamar Kolberg, spiritual leader of Beit Shmueli, who showed courage in the face of these anonymous attackers:
“I reject their right to sit in judgment, which they think allows them to use such harsh and derogatory words,” Kolberg said. “I call upon [the] Israeli public to wake up from its slumber and take revolutionary educational and social steps that will allow all of us to lead meaningful and significant Jewish lives, based on a worldview that stems from the great legacy of the Torah that says ‘its ways are the ways of pleasantness and all her paths lead to peace (Proverbs 3:17).’ ”
We agree with both statements, and we also would add how sad it is that the police in this community have repeatedly failed to protect this synagogue, even when they know it is a target for religious fanatics.
Jews have too many enemies in the world to fight each other as well.
We don’t know why vandals in Israel can’t leave this little synagogue alone. We can’t fathom what they hope to achieve by such an ugly display of Jew-on-Jew violence, one for which the entire world has a front row seat.
But we know this: In a week where Jews attacked other Jews in Israel over religion, it’s comforting to know that in this country — in this area — Jews came together because of religion.