Last Saturday night in Tel Aviv, a masked gunman opened fire at an LGBT youth center in Tel Aviv, Israel. My Israeli cousin, who was visiting from her Tel Aviv suburban hometown, alerted me to what had happened. She was horrified that such violence could occur in the relatively open, accepting and cosmopolitan atmosphere of a large city like Tel Aviv. I watched international news coverage of the violence in shock.
I am American and Israeli, queer, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist. Last night, I attended a vigil in memory of the victims that was organized by members of the Jewish and BGLT communities here in Washington, D.C. I was proud, along with Rev. Archene Turner of Cedar Lane UU Church, to represent the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and to stand in solidarity with Jewish, Israeli, and bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender communities. The UUA offers our heartfelt sympathy to the families of the victims. Incidents such as this remind us that hate crimes can happen anywhere.
Just last week, the UUA community marked the one year anniversary of a shooting at a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tenn. The perpetrator in that case was targeting the “foot soldiers of liberalism.” Two people lost their lives and seven others were injured. In response to this tragedy, the Unitarian Universalist Association has made a commitment to stand up in the face of exclusion, violence and oppression based on identity. We have committed to Stand on the Side of Love.
Rev. Chris Buice, the minister at the church in Knoxville talks about the “bystander effect.” We see it in school yards when people stand by and allow bullying to go on with impunity. By standing on the side of love we create a positive bystander effect, and we respond to a tragic act of hate with love.
Out of all of the images I saw from the news of this weekend’s shooting in Tel Aviv, the one of the word “ahava,” which means “love” in Hebrew, spelled out in lit candles touched me the most. I hope that all people can learn to see past identities that seem to divide us and into the wholeness and sacred light that surrounds us when we stand on the side of love as members of one human family.
Even as the speakers at last night’s vigil mourned the loss of two young lives, they took the opportunity to ask congregations and communities to become more openly accepting and welcoming to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. We applaud their decision to stand firmly on the side of love.