We Bear Witness

Written by Rabbi Andrew Paley

As the Jewish New Year began and the holidays that followed were commemorated, it made for a busy and celebratory fall. In the first month of the Jewish year, there are not two big holidays, but four. Lots to celebrate. As that month ends, it is followed by the only month in the Jewish year without something to celebrate and was dubbed “the bitter month” as a result.

It is bitter indeed, as it was also the time when we paused in our day recently to acknowledge the year anniversary of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. That tragic moment, and so many like it, stands as a reminder of the terrible scourge of violent and extreme anti-Semitism that is on the rise and rearing its ugly head. We continue to think of those killed and wounded and pray for their continued healing. We are grateful to the first responders and those who give their time and love to care for those in need. I once thought in the 21st century, it would be unimaginable in the United States for us to be counting over 200 separate shootings with mass casualties. Churches and synagogues would be targets.

Sadly, the dream of that being impossible has been shattered, over and over. These types of crimes have found a resurgence in our communities. Now, perhaps more than ever we must raise our voices and spirits to say this hatred and violence is not who we are, not who we wish to become, and not the legacy we choose to leave for our children.

Reverend Rachel Smith, founder of God Not Guns wrote, “As people of faith, we must stand witness to the destructive power of gun violence. We must say we will rely not on guns, but on God. We will affirm not guns, but life. We will bless not guns, but our common humanity. We must hold up a higher value saying that our children’s lives are a sacred trust and that human life is more important than any gun.” And most importantly we must recognize that violent rhetoric leads to violent action, especially when we transgress the biblical injunction not to remain indifferent. We as brothers, bound by the ideals of true manhood, democracy and humanity, must never let that happen.

In a small but significant way, our brothers of the Sigma Omicron Chapter at Nebraska are demonstrating these ideals by showing up. Here, at the Nebraska State Holocaust Memorial in Lincoln, the men are regularly involved in cleanup, polishing, and partnering with local Jewish youth groups. They ensure the memorial is a clean, safe, and sacred space where every visitor can connect to the memories of the victims and the aspirations for a better society. Spurred into action by Alumnus Gary Hill, Sigma Omicron’s effort really matter as a symbol of standing up to the darkness of our day. They remind us of not only the best of Sigma Alpha Mu, but also that a little bit of effort really does go a very long way. May their example be our inspiration.

Rabbi Andrew Paley has served as a Chapter Advisor, Regional Governor, Consul of the Octagon and as Supreme Recorder. He believes in the value of sharing experience and insights gained from more than 20 years in the rabbinate and Jewish communal life. Rabbi Paley is among several spiritual leaders in the Fraternity, imparting and sharing his wisdom with fratres.