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Hanukkah reminds us that the Jewish People have long faced enemies of all kinds…but that we have been able to prevail! With the help of the Almighty, and with our own personal commitment, we will continue to bring light, love and kindness to our world.

The Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting took place on October 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The congregation was attacked during Shabbat morning services. The shooter killed eleven people and wounded six. Three years later, we cannot forget this tragedy and its implications for our community...and society at large.

From time to time, we read about polls taken among Israelis, asking if they are religious or secular. These polls reflect a popular Israeli division of its population into "dati" (religious) or "hiloni" (secular).

The State of Israel faces attacks on many fronts. Its enemies are relentless in striving to hurt Israel in every possible way. One area of attack is in the area of economics. There are concerted efforts to boycott companies that do business with and in Israel, and to boycott Israeli products.

Some words get overused, misused and abused. The words become degraded so that they no longer can be taken at face value. I’ve begun receiving notices for upcoming lectures/shiurim that are “major.” Does that imply that all “non-major” lectures, shiurim/programs are “minor?”  When hyping events as “major,” the result is to downgrade all other “non-major” events…and ultimately to downgrade “major” itself.

Demonization of any one group threatens the moral fabric of the entire society. Unless society as a whole can address the plague of dehumanization and demonization, all of us—of whatever background—are at risk. Each of us, in our own way, can contribute to creating a more harmonious, tolerant, humane society.

In our time, like throughout history, there are those who seek to manipulate crowds in dangerous, murderous and hateful ways. There are those who play on the fears and gullibility of the masses. But there are also those who resist the crowd instinct and maintain the personality instinct. These are the stars who will form a new kind of crowd, a crowd that will bring human beings together in harmony and mutual respect.

The Talmud (Berakhot 31a) provides guidelines for how we are to approach prayer: “Our sages taught: One must not stand in prayer in sadness or in laziness, or in laughter, or in conversation, or in light-headedness, or in idle matters; but [one should pray] in happiness [of a mitzvah].”

Those of us who were in New York on that fateful 9/11 will never forget the horror of that day, the terrible loss of lives, the great acts of heroism on the part of so many who strove to help victims of the attack. None will ever forget how vulnerable we are to acts of terrorism. Twenty years later, terrorism is still with us.

We certainly should draw on the wisdom and scholarship of others, and we should give them due credit when we learn from them and quote their words. But we should not shut off our own brains, nor feel unable to express an opinion without basing it on an earlier source. A thinking Judaism makes us better Jews…and better human beings.