In the wake of last weekend’s atrocity in Orlando, there’s no need to ask for whom that damn bell tolls. It tolls loudest and most personally for those directly touched by the violence — for the 49 innocents who were gunned down that night, for the many wounded in that murderous attack, and for everyone who loves someone touched directly by it. And it tolls viscerally for all members of the LGBTQ community and their extended families and friends.
Orlando also hits home chillingly for members of the Muslim community, because to be Muslim in America is to be blamed and reviled for every barbaric act committed in the named of Islam. To be Muslim in America is to fear, and to be feared.
Orlando has an all-too-familiar ring to it for Jews, too, echoing the shootings at a Los Angeles synagogue in 2014 and a Kansas Jewish Community Center in 1999, and a litany of past atrocities too numerous to mention. It echoes the Holocaust, which targeted not only Jews, but gays, Roma gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, disabled people, and other groups that were viewed as the “other.”
Fifteen years ago, the shockwaves of pain in the wake of 9/11 found voice in the simple, powerful statement, “We are all Americans today.” That statement expressed empathy, of course, but also, identity. “We are all Americans today” proclaimed that we were all the targets of the 9/11 terrorists, and for a short while after 9/11, the world became a smaller, more connected place. That’s what needs to happen now, too. We need to recognize that the Orlando atrocity was, truly, an attack on all the freedoms that we aspire to as Americans — freedom of religion, speech, association, as well as the freedom of gender identity and sexual orientation, and the freedom to live without hatred.
Orlando was an attack on all of us. Only by coming together as a single community, united in love and in the rejection of hate, can we allow something good to come from this senseless, evil act. And when we say that “We are all Americans today,” that powerful statement must include the LGBTQ and the Muslim communities. We owe that to the Orlando victims. And we owe it to ourselves.
Arthur Gross-Shaefer is rabbi of the Community Shul of Montecito and Santa Barbara, and Peter Melnick is its president.