Showing Up For Shabbat

By Fiona Tomlin


On Friday, November 2nd, I was honored to attend Shabbat at the Ohev Sholom synagogue in Silver Spring, Maryland. As a show of unity and love against hate, we were there to #ShowUpForShabbat.

The campaign, launched by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), is a response to the recent tragedy in Pittsburgh, where 11 worshipers were killed at the Tree of Life synagogue. To quote David Harris, Chief Executive Officer of AJC, “What could be a more fitting response to the terror?"

We were there to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community, as well as with our colleagues at HIAS, the Jewish refugee resettlement agency. The rabbi and everyone we encountered warmly welcomed us, and although nearly the entire service was in Hebrew, the passion behind the prayers and songs was clear to all.

I cannot think of a more appropriate moment to show the world what we stand for. At Vets for American Ideals, we empower veterans to advocate for refugees and counter hate, and to affirm the values many veterans feel they fought for—unity, tolerance, and the freedom to practice one’s religion in peace.

Around the nation, other VFAI leaders attended Shabbat as well. In D.C., Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, Austin, Raleigh, and more, veterans heeded the call to say: as long as we stand together, hate will never win.

Will Woldenberg, an Army veteran in Philadelphia, was deeply moved by the outpouring of support for his community:

I was born to Jewish parents, had a Jewish grandparent serve in World War II, and had great-grandparents that escaped a fractured Germanic-Polish border town before Hitler's rise to power. And even though I am not religious, I will always proudly identify spiritually, ethnically, and culturally as Jewish.

When we chose to attend Shabbat at Society Hill Synagogue, we expected the building to be relatively full. We didn't expect that nearly two hundred people would show. Several mentioned that they were not Jewish but that they felt it important to be there as a community.

When thousands of Americans, of varying faiths and background—veterans included—show up for their neighbors, it is a testament to what binds us. Yet while the show of love is powerful, we must not forget the potency of hate. Bigotry exists, but we must never accept it nor think of it as inevitable. VFAI leaders will continue to show up, speak out, and advocate for those targeted by the intolerant.

“Supporting my Jewish neighbors is common sense,” said retired Marine Emir Hadzic—a former refugee from Bosnia and current St. Louis police officer—after attending shabbat in Creve Couer, Missouri. “We must not become complacent in this fight. We must all fight the evil spirit of extremism everywhere it rears its ugly head.” (Emir is pictured above with Rabbi Shook at Congregation Temple Israel)

In Chicago, former refugee from Iraq Mohamad Abdul-Maboud, who later enlisted in the Army, brought his wife and two young children to #ShowUpForShabbat. Although they had never been in a synagogue, Mohamad was moved by the warm welcome. “I believe that the true heroes of the night were the resilient Jewish men, women and children of Chicago Sinai Congregation,” he shared. “They welcomed us with true thoughtfulness, opening their house of worship for people from all faiths in a show of solidarity.” Mohamad said the experience has helped to restore his faith in our shared American values.

The services were inspiring and helped the healing process along, but much remains to be done to counter hate in our world. Emir, who is Muslim, shared a quote from the service he attended at Congregation Temple Israel echoing that sentitment: "It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either." -Rabbi Tarfon, Pirke Avot 2:21