-Rachel Siegel, PJC Executive Director

When my partner, Jules, showed me the headlines Saturday morning about the murders at the Pittsburg Tree of Life Synagogue during their Shabbat service, I was deeply rattled. I imagined being there. I imagined my kids being there. I felt panic, fear, desperation. I felt myself losing hope for humanity.

Then I learned of the attempted rampage just days before at the predominantly black First Baptist Church in Jeffersontown, Kentucky. I was equally horrified by that and was disturbed that it was getting so little media attention. Was it because it was a black church? Was it because “only” two people were killed?

It is hard to find words to express how disturbing it is to live through this era of increasingly brazen fascist ideology and violence. At times it is hard to “keep on keeping on” but I carried on with my weekend of work and family commitments. One of my stops was at the Vermont International Film Festival (VTIFF).

The Peace & Justice Center cosponsored a number of the VTIFF film screenings including one yesterday called “White Right: Meeting the Enemy” in Burlington. The filmmaker, Deeyah Kahn, seeks to get underneath the ideology of white supremacists and Nazis. The timing of this screening, just one day after the murders in the Pittsburg synagogue, was poignant.

It was painful and powerful to watch Deeyah, a Muslim woman of Pakistani descent, talk to men who would call her shit skin, sand n-word, and more. She manages, over the course of hours and days, to find her way into the hearts of some of the men she interviewed who end up softening their views and in a couple cases, as she told us in the Q&A, have now left “the movement.”

Deeyah sits down with swastika-tattooed white supremacists and creates meaningful connections with them which leads to change. While this is not a role most of us can (or should) take, the fact that making human connections with would-be murderers and hate mongers, can create change, is truly remarkable. The film is available to watch on Netflix. https://www.netflix.com/title/80994804

So, inspired by this deeply exceptional human, and motivated by current events in Jeffersontown, Pittsburg, and more, I will continue to combat hatred in myself, practice patience with others who are working toward liberation, and build empathy. We will continue our work at the Peace & Justice Center to undo racism, build nonviolent communities, and address the interconnected issues of militarism, capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy.

I am able to do the work I do personally and we are able to do our work at the PJC because of community. There are many of us who get this work done. No one can do it alone. With each of us playing our role, whatever that might be, we can continue to create a different world.

There was one vigil in Montpelier on Sunday and so far we are aware of the three more interfaith vigils happening in response to the murders at Tree of Life Synagogue:

  • Monday, October 29, 6:30, Rutland Jewish Community Center
  • Tuesday, Oct 30, 5:30, Burlington City Hall
  • Wednesday, Oct 31, 6:30, Montpelier Statehouse Lawn

If you know of other events, please let us know so we can support them. We are committed to responding when people are organizing for peace and justice.

If you have not already, please sign and share this open letter to President Trump.