Jews grieve for Orlando: We know what it is to hurt

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State Sen. Mark Leno is Jewish, and he’s gay. He carried the sorrows of both those identities as he walked with fellow members of San Francisco’s Congregation Sha’ar Zahav to a candlelight vigil in the city’s Castro neighborhood just hours after the massacre at a popular gay club in Orlando.

The June 12 shooting deaths of 49 men and women, along with the wounding of at least 53 others, led to an outpouring of support, sympathy and solidarity with the victims from Jewish leaders and organizations in the Bay Area and across the country.

“I think Jewish tradition has always reminded us that we know what it is to be a stranger,” said Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom. “I believe that we are neighbors even when we’re far away. We know what it is to be hurt.”

on the cover: A memorial to the Orlando victims at Castro and Market streets. photo/cathleen maclearie

Leno, whose district includes the historically gay Castro neighborhood and who “lives with the dual identities of Jewish and gay,” said it’s important for both communities to recognize their strong connections.

“I think each of the communities, Jewish and LGBT, are wise to recognize this social and political context that we are always at risk, we are always outside the mainstream,” Leno said in a phone interview. “When times are tough, we know what happens. Intermittently in my life, it’s either the Jews or the gays, one or the other is accused of destroying our country.

“We have all experienced similar scapegoating. Violence of any sort, whether it’s directed at the Jewish community or the LGBT community or the Muslim community, all of this violence does not occur in a vacuum.”

Expressions of shock and horror came from across the spectrum of national Jewish organizations, including B’nai B’rith, the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, American Jewish Committee, the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Keshet, which calls itself “a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life,” encouraged people to sign an online Jewish community condolence message for the LGBTQ community in Orlando.

World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder expressed “the Jewish people’s solidarity with the victims and with the LGBT community.” And the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., pointed out that homosexuals as well as Jews were persecuted in Nazi Germany.

A makeshift shrine in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood memorializes the Orlando victims. photo/cathleen maclearie

The FBI’s most recent compilation of U.S. hate crimes, released last November and analyzing the 5,462 “single-bias” incidents reported in 2014, shows that 18.6 percent were related to religion — 58 percent of those anti-Jewish — and the same amount, 18.6 percent, were based on sexual orientation. (The largest figure, 47 percent, represented crimes based on racial bias.)

The Los Angeles Times and Newsday both quoted co-workers who said Omar Mateen, the man accused of the shootings at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, had railed against Jews as well as gays, blacks and women.

In the wake of the most deadly mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Jews observing the Shavuot holiday joined with the LGBT community marking Pride Month to mourn the victims and express their outrage. Vigils were held across the Bay Area on Sunday night, with more planned throughout the week.

At Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont, about 70 people — some wrapped in rainbow flags — gathered on June 12 for a candlelight march to a vigil at Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland.

Kehilla’s co-rabbi Dev Noily encouraged the mourners to answer hate with love and “with a commitment to justice, as it will strengthen us for the work ahead as we figure out how to show up for our siblings in Orlando.”

Rabbi Michael Rothbaum, the Bay Area co-chair of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, also spoke at the Kehilla gathering, comparing the plight of LGBT men and women to what the Israelites experienced in Egypt.

“Every lesbian and gay man, every bi and trans and queer person, knows the despair of feeling that change is impossible, that the pit is simply too deep, that the hate is too hungry,” he said.

David Cooper

“In the end, it was the sacrifice of young people that was the last straw for the Israelites. And God heard their cry. For the LGBT world, for our friends and families, can this be the last straw? Can these young martyrs be our last? Can this finally be the time that the world hears our cries?”

Julie Dorf, an LGBT leader and one of about 30 members of Sha’ar Zahav who walked with Leno to the mass vigil in San Francisco, said it was important to see “the connections between hatred directed at one group and hatred directed at another” and pointed to other recent incidents of violence against minority groups.

“Whether it’s the man who shot African Americans in a church, or children in a school, or patrons at a gay bar, it’s extremism that’s the problem,’’ she said, cautioning against blaming Islam for the attack. “It’s even more incumbent on us as Jews as well as LGBT people to see that hate is hate is hate.”

Dev Noily

Kehilla co-rabbi David Cooper noted that at the Oakland rally, a Muslim speaker quoted the Koranic teaching “that killing one person is equivalent to killing the entire world — we have the exact same quote in our Talmud, word for word. Forty-nine worlds being taken in the name of hatred is such a shock to us, as Jews and as human beings.”

At least one extreme-right website celebrated the killings, saying they ensured the election of Donald Trump and destroyed Jewish efforts to build a coalition against white men.

“Omar Mateen, an Afghani haji, just secured the election for Trump by carrying out the most deadly terrorist attack in America since 9/11,” Andrew Anglin wrote on his Daily Stormer website. “From the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of all neo-Nazi White supremacists, I want to offer a sincere ‘thank you’ to Omar. Why on earth the Jews thought it made sense to try and push a narrative that women, homosexuals, the Blacks, the Mexicans and the Moslems were all allies is beyond me.”

Julie Dorf

Creditor, who is also chairman of Rabbis Against Gun Violence, said the atrocity in Orlando could rally public support for stricter firearms regulations, especially since it happened amid a presidential campaign that will feature candidates and parties with sharply different views of gun control.

“We, as a Jewish community, have been playing close attention to the ravages of gun violence because we have always paid attention to marginalized communities,” the rabbi said. “We always pay attention, it’s part of our DNA.”

Dorf agreed. “President Obama said it so well — that mixture of hatred with access to assault weapons, it’s got to stop. From a policy perspective, the most possible piece is gun control. From a community perspective, the most possible piece is combating intolerance. So there’s something for each of us to do.”

Scott Wiener, a San Francisco supervisor who, like Leno, is Jewish and gay, said the Orlando massacre “was a homophobic hate crime.”

“This kind of hatred unfortunately is always lurking below the surface in the United States,” Wiener said in a phone interview. “We know anti-Semitism has always been there and is still there. It needs to be beaten down and obliterated.”

J. editor Sue Fishkoff, senior writer Dan Pine and contributing editor Alix Wall contributed to this report.


After Orlando shooting, security expert warns about Jewish sites

Jewish institutions must address the flaws in the security industry exposed by the mass shooting in Orlando, the nation’s top Jewish community security official said this week.

Paul Goldenberg, who directs the Secure Community Network, said the Orlando shooter’s employment by a prominent security firm, G4S, should raise alarms for Jewish organizations that hire security staffers from contractors.

Crowds in the Castro at a vigil after the shootings photo/amy graff

“We need to rethink the process and not depend on the lowest bidder,” Goldenberg said on June 12, emphasizing that he was not singling out G4S, while noting that many Jewish institutions use outside contractors. “The Jewish community has come to rely on private security professionals. We need to consider who to hire.”

Goldenberg, whose SCN is an affiliate of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said security staff often have minimal screening and training and are paid minimum wage.

“A lot of these companies, they’re hiring folks out of need,” he said. “The rates are very low that people are paid and they need to hold on to these guards.”

Goldenberg said contractors often screen individuals just once before hiring and are hesitant to act even when alerted to unusual behavior.

“When do you step up and say something’s not right?” he asked. “When you see something that’s not right or you feel it, who do you report it to? And do these companies have a mechanism in place for that purpose? So it’s a real hot topic. And my concern is that we’ve gone so far the other way that people are afraid to speak up.”

G4S said in a statement it was cooperating with law enforcement. It said Omar Mateen, who was killed during a shootout with police following his rampage, was employed as a guard at a residential community in South Florida and that he had been screened twice, once in 2006 when he was hired and again in 2013. G4S said there were “no adverse findings” and that it was not informed of outside screenings by law enforcement.

NBC reported that the FBI had screened Mateen at least twice, including once in 2013 after co-workers said he made inflammatory statements about radical Islam. A colleague, Daniel Gilroy, told USA Today he had informed G4S about Mateen’s homophobic and racially charged comments. — jta

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster z"l was J.'s senior writer from 2016-2019.