In the Jewish faith when you get married, the new husband breaks the glass under the huppah to remind us that in moments of joy, life is fleeting and fragile. It is an image that came to mind over the weekend as 11 lives were stamped out in a hate-filled shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The victims were not just practicing their faith in a higher power, they were practicing their faith in America — a nation founded on the principle of religious freedom.
In recent years, we have seen these horrific acts play out in places of worship across the country — in Pittsburgh, at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. In each, people were targeted because of their faith or their heritage.
We cannot lose sight of our common humanity and the threads that bind us together. And we cannot forget that the words we use can either bring us together or rip us apart.
It is incumbent upon all of us as citizens in this great country and this great city to seek comfort in our common humanity. To understand and speak to the better angels of our nature.
Last Friday, I had the honor of speaking at a breakfast for One Million Degrees, a program that helps our students stay in community colleges and move onto their careers. I was introduced by Ahmed, a young man who emigrated with his family from Syria to Chicago four years ago.
Think about that for a moment. A Muslim, Syrian immigrant introducing the son of a Jewish, Israeli immigrant. Was he Muslim? Yes. Am I Jewish? Yes. But he introduced me as an American who honored the sacrifice and the struggle of his parents by studying hard and working hard for a better tomorrow.
Ahmed’s parents had no different aspirations for him than my father, Benjamin Emanuel, had for my brothers, Ezekiel and Ariel, and me. The power of this great country is that in the darkness of Damascus, Ahmed’s parents saw in America the promise of a better tomorrow for their son.
Here he is. An immigrant to this great city, graduating our community colleges, working at Accenture, and fulfilling not only his aspirations — but equally powerful — his dreams and honoring his parents’ sacrifice and struggle to come to a better place. Those same dreams, those same aspirations, those same hopes are what led my grandfather and my father to not only this great country but this great city.
In this moment of darkness for our country, as we are wondering how we got here and how we escape this horror, let us remember that in all of us regardless of our sexual orientation, the color of our skin, our faith, our heritage, there’s something more fundamental that binds us together. I saw it Friday morning, but I also see it in our schools, on the train, in grocery stores, at the park, and all throughout our city every day.
My hope is that all of us in Chicago lead by example at this moment and continue to come together as Americans. Because America is not just a place on a map, it’s a set of ideas and values. Those are the same ideas and values like a magnet that drew Ahmed’s parents to this country and drew my father and grandfather here.
If we do that, there is a path from this out to a lighter day. A day filled with love, affection and understanding of each other.
Rahm Emanuel is mayor of Chicago.