Rabbi Aaron Panken on the Mass Murder at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Rabbi Aaron Panken on the Mass Murder at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC

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Friday, June 19, 2015

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  Edmund Burke

The past two days we have witnessed an extraordinarily sad and troubling example of racism and terror in America. The mass murder at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, has left their community devastated, and has shown our world, once again, the lengths to which an individual filled with senseless hatred will go to harm others and shatter lives in service to his evil cause.

We mourn the deaths of Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, beloved church pastor and respected state senator, and of each of the other eight committed leaders of the Emanuel AME community whose lives were taken so tragically. All they wanted to do was learn and share the beauty of their sacred texts together in study. No one should ever have to face this fate simply because they wanted to learn more about their tradition. As Jews, so many times in the past, we have shared such pain, and it is our responsibility to speak out and work tirelessly to ensure that we fashion a world in which every religious tradition is respected and granted the basic human right of freedom to engage in religious study in peace.

This morning I spoke with Rabbi Stephanie Alexander, our alumna and rabbi of the historic Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE) congregation in Charleston, and offered her community the support of her alma mater in any way we could help. Their congregation is a mere five blocks away from Emanuel AME, and Reverend Pinckney and Rabbi Alexander have worked together and have spoken in each other’s congregations. In fact, Rabbi Alexander was on a tour of Civil Rights sites in the South with leaders of many of the churches in Charleston when she received the sad news, and flew back with other religious leaders from Memphis to help her grieving community. Under her leadership, KKBE will be joining in candle lighting this evening and then walking to a community vigil together. There will be much work to do in the future, and we must be there to support this historic community that has meant so much over the years to Reform Judaism, even as they support their brothers and sisters from the Emanuel AME church.

The Mayor’s Office in Charleston has set up a fund to help those whose lives have been shattered by this tragedy, and its website should be open later today. Please consider contributing HERE. Extending Edmund Burke’s thought, it is only when good people speak out and act, that we can bring peace to a world torn by violence. Let us never hesitate to speak against racism and the scourge of violence in our world.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu