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Pittsburgh rabbi once was Quad-Cities

Rabbi Jeffrey Lipschultz works in his office at the Tri City Jewish Center in Rock Island. He formerly worked with Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh where 11 people were killed Oct. 27. Myers at one time also was a cantor at the Quad-Cities synagogue.

America is supposed to be different, Rabbi Jeffrey Lipschultz thought.

"The fact that, last Saturday, she entered the lexicon of Jewish history makes me sad and angry," he said in a letter penned to members of the Tri-City Jewish Center.

His words came after the Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 people dead.

Six hundred miles apart, the Pittsburgh and Rock Island synagogues share a connection. Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who serves the Tree of Life synagogue, was a cantor at the Tri-City Jewish Center in Rock Island from 1987 to 1990.

Lipschultz also said he served a synagogue in Wildwood, N.J., at the same time Myers was a cantor in Ventnor, N.J.

"We became friends, as fellow clergy tend to bond over our collective work," Lipschultz said. "When I interviewed at the Tri-City Jewish Center before I left New Jersey, he (Myers) told me about the Quad-Cities and the great symphony and how he loved this little community. It was his first job out of school."

At 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Lipschultz will lead a memorial service at the center at 2715 30th St., Rock Island, for those killed at the Tree of Life synagogue. All faiths are invited.

"You can’t mourn on Shabbat, which is Friday night and Saturday, so Sunday fits the time to begin the memorial service," he said.

Lipschultz said he wrote the letter to members of the Tri-City Jewish Center because he believed the "words of my anguish" would be better on paper.

"I could get too emotional if I tried to speak them," he said.

In his letter, Lipschultz said he long perceived America as the one country immune from anti-Semitic violence.

"America seems a little different today after last Saturday," he said. 

Writing a short blurb on violent massacres in every country over the past two millennia would require a semi truck of paper, he said.

"We Jews know of this type of bigotry and violence," Lipschultz said. "Our history is filled with it. But America — well, America was different.

"But now I see something dark in this country," he said. "And it scares me."

His letter addressed the increase of anti-Semitic acts, stating hate seems to be nonpartisan, fitting both left and right.

"Jews are attacked because of our link to the state of Israel, and we are attacked for other conspiracy theories," Lipschultz said. "We are defined 'too liberal' or 'too conservative,' 'too assimilated' or 'not assimilated enough.'

"Jews seem to be the one chosen people that everyone seems to find a reason to hate," he said.

Lipschultz says America is supposed to be a place where people compete not on ethnicity but on the streams of ideas linked by "that sacred document," the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment, he said, assures our right to free speech and to offer disagreement.

Recently, he said, we seem to have lost the ability to disagree with one another without seeing the other as evil.

"The ability to argue is what makes our religious character unique," he said. "Believing that we can only find truth through disagreement, the great sages of the Mishnah and the Talmud made sure to keep the arguments and disagreements in the holy text so we, as future generations, could figure out God’s path in each generation."

Lipschultz says he has fears, both as a Jew and as the father of three boys. 

"I wonder what world are they inheriting and what I have done to break this aspect of our world," he said. "I now realize we need to fix this both as Jews and Americans. We need to find a way to talk to one another without declaring those we disagree with as the enemy."

He says people need to recognize we are one family and that we love the same thing. "We only see differently how best to keep and protect her," he said.

Lipschultz said he did not want to see what happened in Pittsburgh happen in the Quad-Cities. He encouraged people to "embrace the good in others," even those with whom they disagree.

"This is our opportunity to teach the world of 'tikkun,' repair, which is to fix a world so broken that is why God blessed His people with His holy word, the Torah," he said.

"I am proud to be an American," Lipschultz said, "and I hope this country leans to make peace with itself."

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