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Jewish Synagogue Tragedy Is an Attack on All Americans

Eleven people were killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Oct. 27, 2018. | (Screenshot: CBS News)

The recent deliberate attack on a Jewish synagogue was not a freak accident. It was the culmination of anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and bigoted rhetoric that has virulently consumed our nation and impacted the lives of too many innocent people, including the 11 worshippers killed. Indeed, the tragic shooting was devastating not only for the Jewish community, but also for Americans as a whole.

The Tree of Life Synagogue shooter was motivated by anti-Semitism and hatred for refugees resettled by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a Jewish refugee resettlement agency. Like my own organization, Church World Service, HIAS is one of the nine national refugee resettlement agencies that partners with the United States government to resettle refugees as part of the U.S. refugee admissions program.

The attacker's immense disdain for this life-saving and historically bipartisan program falls in line with the views of those who do not instinctively prioritize the unity of all of our people or the virtues of a diverse society. Since his first week in office, President Trump has been actively dismantling all pathways for families seeking violence and persecution to find safety. With three iterations of the Muslim/refugee travel ban, the lowest administrative ceiling on refugee resettlement in history, and attempts to block pathways to asylum, this administration has harmed tens of thousands of refugees who desperately need protection. In Fiscal Year 2018, the administration resettled only 22 thousand refugees, leaving vulnerable families separated and stranded in life threatening conditions and willing Americans unable to assist them.

People of faith across the country share a strong calling to counter the fear and hatred we are seeing in the world, and to foster counter-cultural welcoming communities. This is what HIAS, CWS, and countless congregations we serve across the country are working toward each day. An attack on one of these congregations is an affront to our most firmly held values, an attack on all of us who defend the vulnerable.

No one should be attacked for worshipping in the way that they choose. The Bible states: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, and those who claim no faith tradition are all my neighbors. My heart aches to see our Jewish brothers and sisters suffer and for the hate that motivated the attacker to commit this heinous act in the first place.

So as our nation mourns and reflects on how to deal with so much hatred — he same hatred that fuels islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism in our churches, mosques, schools and communities — I remember the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

Together, let us pray that such a tragedy does not occur again, and stand firmly against allowing fear and bigotry dominate our headlines and politics. I have full confidence that Americans recognize that hate is an ugly scourge in our society and must be rooted out like the cancer it is. One of the most powerful ways to demonstrate this is to love the vulnerable among us with such fervor that hate no longer has a home. May we fill our communities with light so that darkness has no place to hide. The future of faith communities and our nation's history of welcome depends on it.

The Rev. John L. McCullough is President and CEO of Church World Service, a global humanitarian organization and one of the U.S.'s nine refugee resettlement agencies.

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