COMMENTARY: Am I my brother’s keeper?

BY RABBI CLAUDIO J. KOGAN

I am sure all of us were shocked by last Saturday’s news and to learn about another shooting. This time, it occurred in a synagogue and on the holiest day of the week, the Sabbath. People were gathering to pray and to celebrate. This event happened in the same week that suspicious packages were sent to different people and organizations.

The Tree of Life synagogue’s gunman was motivated by hate because he could not stand that the synagogue helped immigrants. I am very concerned because that feeling of not welcoming the strangers and treating the other as the enemy is shared by a huge part of today’s American society. That is why I would like to remind everyone of the biggest lessons of our Bible, from Leviticus 19:33-34.

“When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’”

This lesson is written 36 times and probably is the commandment that every human being aside of his or her religious and political views should remember.

I am an immigrant who came to this country motivated by the respect and the values of democracy in which the United States inspired the whole world. That is why I encourage all of us at that this time to come together in unity, in respect and in understanding the values in which America was founded. I came to America because I felt that America is a safe place to continue my life journey and where my family could enjoy freedom.

I encourage everybody to remember the Bible episode when Cain killed Abel. God asked Cain. “Where is your brother?” Cain’s answer was, “I do not know.” He replied, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Today is a time in which everybody should answer the following question.

“Am I responsible of the present American situation? Am I treating the other as an enemy? Am I responsible to help those in need? Am I responsible to teach my children about caring for others?” Each of us needs and deserves to give an answer. This is the time to abandon the hostility and embrace caring.

The gunman shouted, “Kill the Jews.” We, the Jewish people, have heard that phrase throughout our history. We have learned how ideas of hatred can damage and have killed one-third of our people. I encourage everybody to be sensitive because that phrase could be replaced by, “Kill the immigrants. Kill the homosexuals. Kill the Muslims. Kill the evangelicals. Kill the Catholics…” When ideas of hatred are triggered, we do not know where they could finish.

I believe in our democratic system and its values. Because of that, I respect our elected officials. That is why I pray and I encourage all our elected officials to remember why they are in their positions. I encourage all of them to come together and to answer the question, “Where is America today? How can I, as a public official, help the American society stop hate?”

Us answering these questions is what the victims of the Tree of Life shooting deserve. Answering these questions will prevent another shooting. We are our brothers’ keepers. Let’s do what we can to prevent another attack. As soon as we hear any sign of hatred, let’s stand up and let’s stop it.

I pray that the 11 victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting (Joyce Fienberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; Cecil Rosenthal, 59; David Rosenthal, 54; Bernice Simon, 84; Sylvan Simon, 86; Daniel Stein, 71; Melvin Wax, 88; Rose Malinger, 97; and Irving Younger, 69), will rest in peace and their memories always will be remembered for a blessing.

Tzecher Tzaddik le bracha.

Rabbi Claudio J. Kogan is the spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel in McAllen since 2012. He also is a medical doctor and has a master in Medical Ethics and Master of Education. As director, he leads the UTRGV School of Medicine’s Institute for Bioethics and Social Justice.