Copyright © Alan N. Canton, Vice President, Adams-Blake Publishing
Domestic Terrorism -
The following was written by Alan N. Canton, Vice President of Adams-Blake publishing - and a member of one of the three synagogues that was firebombed in Sacramento, California, on June 19th, 1999.
Please read what he shares - for there is more than just the terrorism involved; there is also a glimmer of light, hope, and compassion to which each of us can add.
Newspaper Article: Sacramento Bee
I have long said that book publishers are the "keepers of the culture." And I have long held (although not in public) that the Jews are the mothers and fathers of the culture.
I'm sure that most of you have heard about how three synagogues in my home of Sacramento, CA were firebombed early Friday morning (see link above) and perhaps you have heard about the pains of despair that so many Jews around the country are feeling. And, of course, these feelings run even stronger among those of us who are members of one of the temples.
I have been a member of Congregation B'nai Israel for the past 17 years. This is our 150th anniversary. We are the oldest congregation West of the Mississippi.
All day yesterday members of our temple (as Jewish congregations go, we're on the large side with 900 families) phoned each other seeking news about how bad it really was, etc. since we were not allowed anywhere near the site.
Was this the beginning of another reign of terror for us? Was this another Kristalnacht?
We talked about how this could happen in America? What have we done? Why do they (still) hate us so much? Aren't we good members of the community? We volunteer for local services and donate funds to good civic causes. All we ask is to be allowed to worship the way we wish and to be allowed to keep our culture alive in our own homes and temples. We don't seek converts. It is not a "we're better than you are," or "God loves us more than you." All we ask is that we be allowed to live in peace, brotherhood, and safety within the dominant Christian community. We don't want to bother or threatenebombed three of our temples. Not in New York, or L.A. But here.
They must live here. Who would come in from out of town to our small city and our small Jewish congregation? It must be local people, and if so, why? We don't bother anyone.
We heard via our phone tree as well as the local media, that our weekly Friday Sabbath service would be held in the 2,000 seat Community Theatre.
I wasn't going to go at first. I'm not religious and don't often go to Friday night services. However I thought that someone should be there to "stand up" to the terrorists who would attempt to rend and destroy us. Even though it was announced that everyone (Jew/non-Jew) was invited (this is normal for Reform congregations) I figured that there would only be 150 or 250 people there, enough to fill up a few rows in the huge theatre, which has two balconies.
When I arrived I was totally surprised.
Eighteen hundred people from all over our community, Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, Hare Krishna's, and members from every sect of the Protestant community was there. There were members from black churches, gay churches, Asian churches, as well as atheists, agnostics, and some of the followers of so-called "new age" spiritual leaders. There were ministers, bishops, city council members, the police chief, the FBI, ATF, and representatives from the state legislature and governors office. Never have I seen such an outpouring of grief and concern from the community... for Jews.
One of the most touching groups was the Methodists. It seems they were having a large convention here in Sacramento. And when they heard about the bombings, many decided they wanted to pray with us. And so there were hundreds of them all wearing their convention badges. And they circulated through the waiting crowd explaining who they were and why they were there. What a wonderfully kind thing to do.
A Reform Jewish Friday night service is not what you might expect. It is not solemn and "dignified." It is the "Celebration of the Sabbath" where workday thoughts are put aside and the hearts of the parents turn toward the children and the hearts of the children turn to the parents. We sing, clap hands, say prayers, listen to the Rabbi and Cantor (who leads the music) banter with each other, and of course hear a sermon, often filled with humor. It is a happy service.... and usually short.
But who could be happy? Our house of worship had been torched. Our entire library of 5,000 books was gone. Yet our Rabbi told us that we must persevere and that to not celebrate the Sabbath would be exactly what the terrorists would hope to achieve. And so we went on with our service.
There were a number of speakers from our congregation and from the community. All were inspirational and devoid of the kind of sorrow, sadness, grief, or anger that you might expect.
Our previous Rabbi, now retired, who served us for 22 years, flew in from Phoenix and reminded us that "we are the JEWISH people and that we have always survived and we will survive this as well."
And we were putting on a brave front. We laughed, we sang, we applauded, we said the ancient prayers. We held up the best we could.
Then something happened that I will never forget.
Seated on the stage (known as a bema (bee-mah) in Hebrew... alter) were a number of our Temple's officers, as well as some of the "dignitaries" from the city. There was one very attractive blonde woman whom no one seemed to recognize. I heard the "buzz" of "who is that woman and why is she there." Toward the middle of the service our Rabbi said he wanted to introduce us to a Rev. Faith Whitmore and she got up and went to the podium. She was either the local, or regional head of the United Methodist Church, who was having their convention. And she spoke briefly about how appalled she was and her brethren were about these incidents.
We've heard it before. From the Pope on down, all through the years its been "Gee, sorry for the Holocaust but there's nothing I could have done about it."
She reached into her suit coat and took out a piece of paper.
"I want you to know that this afternoon we took a special offering of our members to help you rebuild your temple and we want you to have this check for six thousand dollars." For two seconds there was absolute dead quiet. We were astounded. Did we hear this correctly? Christians are going to do this? On the third second the hall shook with a thunderous applause. I've never heard applause like that before. And it went on for two minutes. And then people broke into tears. Me too. It was like all of the emotion of the day and evening poured out in those few minutes.
Those in my parent's generation were dumbfounded. Who ever heard of Gentiles caring about Jews? The idea of a Gentile coming up to a Jew and saying "I want you to know how sorry I am" was beyond the ability of many of our members to cope. And I have to admit that I too, the old curmudgeon that I am, felt so much emotional gratitude for these lovely people, who were not even part of our community or city.
As Rev. Whitmore gave the check to the Rabbi and hugged him, it was one of the most emotional moments I've ever been witness to. In my entire lifetime I've never known an organized Christian denomination to officially do anything "nice" for a Jewish congregation. Our congregation, some 1100 of us stood with tears in our eyes. Christians who for centuries sent the Cossacks to pillage our towns, who put us through their Inquisitions, who burned us at the stake as heretics, who expelled us from their countries, who locked us away in tiny shtetls (shtet-ell... a poor Jewish town like in Fiddler on the Roof), who eagerly turned us into the Nazi SS, and who ran the trains, who produced the poison gas, or just "knew" about the greatest human tragedy of this century.... were doing something good for a Jew. Nothing in my life prepared me for that. It's one thing to say "I'm sorry, it's too bad," but it is quite another to put $6,000 behind it and not even be from the community!!! When this is all behind me, I'm going to find out who the head Methodist deacon, pope, minister, or whatever he/she is called, get the address and write a warm thank-you letter... as will every member of our congregation.
The evening closed with a final hymn and we all went home feeling a bit better.
It didn't really hit me until this afternoon when I drove down to the temple (about 20 miles from my home) and saw the charred remains of the library wing. The place was swarming with ATF, FBI and other agents, collecting materials for the investigations. One ATF agent said that this is being classified as an "act of domestic terrorism" and has been given the highest priority. When you see the destruction of something that was "yours," something you helped build, and something you were proud of, it hits you. The depression is awesome. It is just awesome.
Why here? Why us? Why me? I'm sure there are answers, but I don't have them at the moment. The only answer I do have is that we must pick ourselves up as a congregation and community (there were two other temples also heavily damaged) and move on. They can't beat us. We ARE the Jewish people. We were here 5,000 years ago, and we will be here 5,000 years from today.
I'm going to end by doing something that may upset some of you. I'm going to call in whatever markers I might have. I've been writing A Saturday Rant for you for over four years now. I've contributed to the dialectic of the industry and have tried to be a force of positive change. In public I have done what I think has been right and for the best in our sector of the industry. In private, as some of you know, I give as much help and advice as I can to new publishers. I've always been honest with you and while I've made mistakes, on the whole I think I have been a good citizen of the industry and our small press community.
We lost our ENTIRE 5,000 volume library. I saw it. It was soot. Not even a page remained. Nothing.
It was a wonderful library of Jewish oriented books and films. It was a treasure of our congregation and it was used by hundreds of our members, especially the young people. In our community, mothers took their children to the Temple library as much as they took their children to the public library. It was part of "what we do." Our books and videos were one of the ways we "socialized" our young people into our culture. And it works. We don't have a very high incidence of crime, substance abuse, or academic problems with our young people. We expect a lot from them and we make sure they have the tools and opportunities not to disappoint us.
If you could find it in your heart to send a check for a dollar or two (five, ten, or whatever is in your heart) for our library fund, it would be what we call a mtizvah (a good deed.) I told our Rabbi that I would ask every publisher in America through my Saturday Rant for a small contribution. You probably won't get any recognition or even a formal thank-you. But as a publisher you of all people should know what the loss of a library means to we who are known as "the people of the book."
If this is something you could do, please make out a check to Congregation B'nai Israel and send it to me at Adams-Blake Publishing, 8041 Sierra Street, Fair Oaks, CA 95628. I will see that it gets to the right people.
This will be the last Rant for a while. I usually take July and August off but I think I may begin my hiatus now. I have to heal as much as everyone else... and I have a lot of work to do this summer... not only in my business but to help rebuild our temple and community. They have not beaten us.
As our Torah teaches us..."And this too shall pass."
And as the final benediction to every one of our services reads "May the Lord bless you, and keep you, and give you peace."
Alan N. Canton