Like you, I’ve been struggling to come to terms over the last few days with the horrible murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. How can we make sense of such terrible violence? How can we work to ensure that such ugly hatred isn’t repeated?
I was talking the other night about all this with an old friend, Jeff Arbus.
Many of you know Jeff or have at least seen his name. An active and engaged OPSEU member for more than 30 years, Jeff’s compassion and leadership are well known. He served as a local president at Sault College (Local 613) and also as an Executive Board Member and the Regional Vice-President of Region 6.
Jeff is Jewish, and during our call he helped me put the murders into important perspective. We will never forget this tragedy, but we mustn’t let it stop us from striving towards our goal of creating a better and more caring world for all.
The conversation was so moving and inspiring, I asked Jeff to put it down on paper. And now I’d like to share it with you.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
OPSEU’s board, staff and members are shocked and heartbroken over the hate-filled attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh. While congregants were at Saturday morning Sabbath prayers, a man entered and opened fire with an AR-15 assault rifle and three handguns. Eleven congregants were murdered, and six were wounded including four police officers. The gunman was wounded and taken into custody.
As horrific as it is that a place of worship, of peace and of sanctuary was attacked in this way, what makes it worse is that the man shouted phrases like “Jews must die.” Clearly, this was anti-Semitism at its worst. It was the worst attack on a synagogue in U.S. history. Jews around the world are feeling the grief and pain of this act of anti-Semitism.
This comes at a time of rising hate crimes. For at least the past two years, hate crimes have been rising at an alarming rate, not only in the U.S., but also in Canada, Europe and around the world. In every country reporting hate crimes, the number of anti-Jewish hate crimes exceeds those reported by any other group. And the numbers continue to rise.
This is not the first attack on a place of worship. Many will remember the attack on a Quebec City mosque in January of 2017, where six were killed and many others wounded.
Attacks such as the one in Pittsburgh are heartbreaking for the loss of life and for the shattering of the belief that freedom to worship still exists. Places of worship that used to be open to all now must have locked doors, elaborate security systems and even armed guards – though even that did not stop the massacre in Pittsburgh.
OPSEU is many things, but above all we value humanity, justice and equity. We strive to ensure a safe and secure world for all. The massacre in Pittsburgh runs counter to everything we stand for.
We will not be silent when hate enters our communities and when people are victimized because of who they are. We will not let this hateful act turn us from our mission as a union.
We will stand with our Jewish sisters, brothers, partners and comrades, just as we have stood with our Islamic communities, with our LGBTTIQ communities, with our First Nations and Indigenous communities, with our communities of people of colour, and with every minority or disempowered group.
We will not tolerate hateful speech or actions.
We will speak out against any such actions, no matter how hard it may be to take that stand.
And we will do all this as one, as a united union, for that is where we find our strength.
We will do this because we believe a better world is possible. We believe that hate can be overcome by love, by caring and by standing in solidarity with all people.
Right now, we mourn with the Jewish families who have suffered loss in Pittsburgh. We grieve with Jewish people everywhere who feel the attack as if it was on them directly.
We must commit ourselves every day to fulfilling our central mission, which is to make the world better for all.
That is what OPSEU does best.
We will not be shaken from our purpose.