We need a unifying moment. Most of us are good people, most of us care about our families, our neighbors, our communities and the safety and soundness of our lives in America.
We need a moment when everyone can come together, regardless of their faith, background or individual beliefs, and decide that we believe in our city, state and country.
We need a moment when we are all Jewish. We need to show the people out there who are threatened by any one religion or belief that we all stand together, that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us, and that we will not tolerate any level of violence against a group because we support and believe in each other.
Wearing blue, as my children and their friends did the first day after the horrific attack in Pittsburgh, is a start.
There’s a wonderful climactic scene in the Kevin Kline movie “In & Out,” (1997). A former student of Kline’s has outed him as gay just before his wedding. The town wants to remove him as a teacher, despite his dedication to his students. During a graduation ceremony, people who have known and appreciated Kline’s commitment stand up, one by one, and declare that they, too, are gay, rallying behind a teacher who meant so much to them.
Violence, discrimination and hatred toward any one group will be spectacularly difficult if the group suddenly includes everyone. I’m not suggesting that anyone changes religions. I am, however, suggesting that people stand together with Jews, Muslims, lesbian and gay populations and make it clear to anyone who would target these groups with bullying, hatred or worse that we as a unified group will not allow it.
Pursuing the death penalty against the perpetrator of this violence may be a deterrent to other people who might consider similar acts, although I suspect that the diseased minds who crave relief through murder may not care that much about their fate.
We need to send a signal beyond the death penalty for those contemplating violence. We need to tell them that the group they hate is larger than they think and the actions they are considering are unacceptable to all of us.
Just over 20 years ago this month, Matthew Shepard was killed for being gay. Ideally, today people can express their sexual preference without fear of anger or violence. Unfortunately, we don’t yet live in an ideal world, so we must stand together with this generation’s Matthew Shepards.
This isn’t a political moment. This is a time when caring community members can and will stand, side by side, to make it clear that, despite our differences, despite our frustrations with each other, despite our irritation at someone who takes our parking spot, we are a community that cares.
Most people feel helpless in the face of abominable acts as in Pittsburgh. In addition to finding a time and place to stand together, we should tell people we are gay or Jewish or Muslim. We should wear those labels with pride, the way we put on a new dress, shoes or tie the first day after we buy it.
Perhaps, all week, when we pick up the phone, we should say, “Joe’s Deli, this is John and I’m Jewish. How may I help you?” Or, “It’s a great day at the store. This is Alice and I’m gay. How can I help you”
It’s impossible to hate “the others” when everyone belongs to that group. We need a unifying moment and it starts with each of us.