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Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, Ph.D. Headshot

Jewish High Holidays: Time to Reflect and Stop Hate Crimes in America

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During our High Holiday season, the Jewish community gathers in synagogues across America, reaffirms our Jewish identities and prays for a good year to come. Of special importance this year, we give thanks that we live in a country that grants us the freedom to do so.

Indeed, religious freedom in America has allowed the Jewish community to flourish here. Then, it is appropriate that during this time the U.S. Senate will address ways in which all communities can flourish in America. In light of the recent and horrific hate violence, it is in solidarity that I welcome the U.S. Senate hearing on hate crimes and domestic extremism.

Over the Jewish New Year's two days of celebration, we publicly read from the book of Genesis, chapters 21-22. In those narratives we read how our Father Abraham exiles his son Yishmael -- that is the tension with which we end the first day of the holiday on which we anticipate God's judgment.

On the second day of the New Year we read of God's command to Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. Annually, we breathe a sigh of relief when the Torah's narrative recalls that at the very moment that Abraham lifted the knife to his son's throat, an angel called out to him, "Abraham, Abraham, do not lay your hand upon the child!"

It is no accident that in the Jewish penitential season we read of religious violence and God's salvation. It has too long been our history that we humans act against one another in violence in the name of God. And it seems that sometimes only the voice of an angel can call us to account -- to stop violence and hatred in the name of religion.

We welcome Senator Durbin's committee hearings as having the potential to be that angelic voice for our American community. Sometimes, even Washington can lead the way and remind us that God does not demand hatred of one religious community against another. We stand with the Sikh community, much as we stand with the Muslim and Christian, indeed with every religious community, to condemn violence and uphold the freedom of religious expression that are this country's constitutional promise.

Whether we are Sikh or Jewish, Republican or Democrat, American or foreign, we know that the promise which America shares with all religions is the simple commandment to "love one another."