Thank you to all who came to our gathering last night. Many of us were not able to be there. Some of you saw the coverage of the event on WSVN. I wanted to share my words, as delivered by Cantor Debbie, with you today.
My heart is broken, my emotions are high. Like you, I am struggling with the terror attack in Orlando – the latest hate, violence and extremism that has shattered our world. Cheryl, Abigail and Jonah join me in sending our condolences to the families and friends who have lost loved ones and we send our positive thoughts and prayers to those survivors who are healing after this attack. I know you join with us in saying that we promise to do whatever we can to honor the precious memory of those we lost Sunday morning.
Given how close we are to Orlando, the number of kids we have at UCF and the number of UCF alum we have in our community, this attack hits so close to home. My own mother lives within walking distance of the nightclub where this nightmare took place. So many people are hurting. We’re hurting and, of course, that is why you came tonight.
I do want to share a few words with you this evening and I thank Cantor Debbie for helping me do so.
As we wrestle with Sunday’s terrorist attack, we must not overlook the fact that this was a direct attack on the GLBTQ community. Pulse, the nightclub where the attack took place, is an integral part of the GLBTQ community. Barbara Poma co-founded Pulse in memory and honor of her brother, John, who died from complications related to AIDS in 1991. Pulse was a haven for the GLBTQ community. To overlook that this was an attack grounded in homophobia and an attack against the GLBTQ community is no different than overlooking that the terrorist attack in Tel Aviv last week was an attack against Israelis, Jews and all supporters of the Jewish State.
As we wrestle with the terrorist attack, many of us are struggling with gun legislation and gun rights. Wherever you find yourself in this struggle, I think we all can agree that dangerous weapons do not belong in the hands of dangerous people. Just like after September 11, 2001, when we as a nation explored ways to keep our airplanes safer, now is the time for us – those of us who oppose guns, those of us who own guns, and everyone in between – to come together to find a solution to gun violence that makes our world safer. As we do so, we must remember that those who are determined to undermine our society will use all means necessary to do so. The Boston Marathon terrorists didn’t need guns. I say this not to dismiss the need for serious discussions about guns, but to remind us that the discussions we need to have must include conversations about bigger issues of security and personal privacy.
As we wrestle with the terrorist attack, many of us are wrestling with the fact that the attack in Orlando, that attack in Tel Aviv, the attack in San Bernadino, the attacks in Paris, the attack in Boston, the attack in Chattanooga, the attack at Fort Hood and too many other attacks all share a frightening common denominator. Many of us are afraid or uncomfortable to call this common denominator what it is – radical, Islamic extremism. We are afraid and uncomfortable because we know that there are good, peace-loving Muslims out there and we don’t want to label as evil an entire religion. But, I have been taught by the wise Muslim American, Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, that we must openly call out and stand up to radical Islamic fundamentalists. Dr. Jasser, the founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement, calls upon his fellow Muslims “to reject interpretations of Islam that advocate for violence, social injustice and political Islam” and “to support a reform of Islam that advocates for peace, human rights and secular governance.” Dr. Jasser, his colleagues and fellow Muslims who stand with him want us to differentiate between peaceful, patriotic, inclusive Muslims and the fanatic, extremists who have hijacked their religion and are using it as a dangerous, destructive tool of terror. Dr. Jasser demands that we stand up to Islamic extremism. His courage and leadership are truly incredible and we must join the growing crowd of people who are standing with him.
Finally, Sunday’s terrorist attack has hit us hard. As we try to comprehend what took place, we are grasping for answers and, in doing so, looking to place blame on someone or something. This attack has us fighting over gun rights. This attack has us fighting over political candidates and politicians and what they have said or haven’t said. This attack has us fighting over personal freedoms and what the FBI, CIA and law enforcement has or hasn’t done to stop attacks like these. I’ve even heard people beginning to attack the owners of Pulse, the club where the attack took place. We’re upset. We’re angry. We’re confused. But we must remember that terrorists ultimately have one goal – and that is to undermine our community. One of the ways that they can do this is to divide us. As President Abraham Lincoln said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Yes, if we have the discussions we need to have following this most recent terrorist attack, we will disagree with each other. As we move forward with the current presidential campaign, these disagreements will become more and more obvious. But disagreement does not mean we have to turn against each other. Please, let’s commit to doing everything we can to keep this horrific attack from dividing us. We need each other.
The words of the Haskiveinu – our prayer for protection, comfort and peace (slightly modified for tonight):
Grant that we may lie down in peace, God, and awaken us to life. Shelter us with Your tent of peace and guide us with Your love and strength. Shield us from hatred, plague and destruction. Keep us from harm, famine and heartbreak. Help us to do good. God of peace, may we always feel protected because You are our Guardian and Helper. Give us refuge in the shadow of Your wings. Guard our going forth and our coming in and bless us with life and peace. Blessed are You, Eternal God, whose shelter of peace is spread over us all, over all Your people in Orlando, in South Florida, throughout America, in Israel, over Jerusalem – over all Your people everywhere.
Thank you for being here – for supporting each other – for creating a safe place.