Joe Biden: 2 years after the Tree of Life shooting, the world feels dark. We must be the light.


(JTA) — Two years ago, a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh with hate in his heart and bigotry in his soul. Beset by a false sense of grievance and an imagined threat, he murdered 11 peaceful souls at prayer, taking age-old anti-Semitism to its most vile conclusion. We were reminded in that moment, as we have been too many times before, that we still have work to do to give meaning to the haunting phrase: never again.

I’ve never forgotten the harrowing lesson of those words, which I first learned from my father as a young boy in the years that followed the horrors of the Holocaust. I’ve done my best to pass that lesson along to my children and grandchildren, taking them to visit Dachau so they could see firsthand what can happen if we stand silent in the face of evil and prejudice. Those experiences were about more than bringing to light the darkest chapters of the past. Because the end of that story isn’t one solely of loss and devastation; it’s also about the survivors, their perseverance, determination and faith.

It’s about the wisdom we can glean from generation to generation of Jewish history: the necessity of refusing to stand idly by. The urgency of speaking the truth. The demand to pursue justice, embrace peace, repair the world and treat each person with dignity. These principles have Jewish roots, but they are also fundamental to who we are as Americans. We need them now more than ever. We all have to heed the rabbinic teaching that “it is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.”

We have a responsibility to do the work of improving, strengthening and perfecting our union. That begins with affirming an essential truth: no one should fear for their rights, their freedoms or their lives because of who they are.

Anti-Semitism is a cancer that has fueled a dangerous rise in hate crimes over the past four years, from Charlottesville and Pittsburgh to Poway and Jersey City. I got into this race after hearing the anti-Semitic bile spewed by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville — and hearing President Trump say that there were “very fine people on both sides.” Those words shocked our conscience and stunned the world.

If I have the honor of being elected, you have my word: we will forcefully denounce this evil, no matter the source. We will lead a comprehensive strategy for battling anti-Semitism. We will restore funding for programs to address domestic extremism, prosecute hate crimes and substantially expand investments in protection for our houses of worship.

We will lift up our common humanity on every issue, including our comprehensive effort to beat COVID-19 — a disease that has taken too many lives, too many jobs and too much time away from kids and grandkids. We will be guided by science, while heeding the Talmudic call: that if you save one life, it’s as if you saved the entire world. For any family who has lost a loved one to this virus, I know what that loss is like — that is your entire world.

We’ll listen to public health experts, implement nationwide mask mandates by working with governors and mayors, greatly enhance our testing and tracing capacity, get desperately needed resources to families and small businesses to help them weather the pandemic, and distribute a vaccine equitably and at zero cost the second it’s ready. Politics won’t be a factor. Health, safety and security are all that matter.

Our responsibility extends beyond our borders as well — to maintaining and deepening our unbreakable bond with Israel. I have worked with every Israeli Prime Minister since I first met Golda Meir as a young senator, and my commitment has never wavered: I will always stand firm for Israel’s security and against efforts to delegitimize Israel on the global stage. I will work with our ally Israel to ensure it can always defend itself and to pursue the lasting security of a two-state solution. And I will never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Unlike our current president, I will never play partisan politics with the U.S.-Israel relationship. And I will restore America’s role on the global stage — as a nation that leads not only by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.

Here at home, we must do more than talk about tikkun olam — repairing the world — we must act on its promise. We must recommit to the pursuit of justice in healthcare, economic fairness, racial equality and reproductive freedom, and we must take on the existential threat of climate change. We must welcome the stranger by reasserting our founding promise as a nation of immigrants and asylum seekers. We must uphold our commitment to dignity and respect for every single person, in word and deed.

The Jewish story is the American story — being the light when the world feels dark. No matter the issue, there is one way all of us can write the next chapter: we can vote. We can exercise our power to determine who we are and who we wish to be.

By casting our ballots, we can, in other words, pray with our feet — and in the process, reclaim America’s soul.

is the former vice president of the United States and the 2020 Democratic candidate for president.

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