Rabbi Steven Lewis of Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester sent out the following invitation and reflection in the wake of the horrific murders at Congregation Tree of Life in Pittsburg last Friday.
בָּרוּךְ דַּיַּן הָאֱמֶת
Blessed is the True Judge
עֵץ-חַיִּים הִיא לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ, וְתֹמְכֶיהָ מְאֻשָּׁר
It is a tree of life to those who grasp onto it, and whoever holds on to it is happy.
This Friday night (a musical Kabbalat Shabbat with the Alle Brider Band) is the first time we will join together as a community after the horrific murders at Congregation Tree of Life in Pittsburg last Shabbat. Our service, which will follow the regular form of our Friday evening service, will be an opportunity for prayer, song and healing in response to this horrific event.
We are also reaching out to the wider Gloucester community to join us in solidarity. Since Shabbat, I have received many expressions of concern and support. I expect I am not the only one. Today, leaving the synagogue, I saw a car idling in our driveway and did not recognize the man behind the wheel. I approached him to ask why he was there and he said he and his wife, parishioners at Saint Ann Church (“your neighbors”) had come to drop off flowers. Upon my return to the synagogue, another bouquet was being dropped off from the staff of the Sargent House Museum. The pain and rage we feel, as well as the commitment to stand against the growing hatred and violence in our country, is shared with many of our neighbors.
I hope you can join us this Friday night, and I encourage you to invite others who you feel would like to participate. Click taagloucester.org and read News for times and details and to RSVP.
What do we do in the impossible moment when confronted by death, violence and horror?
The traditional Jewish response is to say: Baruch Dayan haEmet. “Blessed is the true Judge.” It is a remarkable practice. Reeling from shock and anguish, words often feel impossible. In that moment, our tradition puts words in our mouths, words affirming the world’s coherence and justice – the opposite of what we are feeling. Despite chaos, we affirm that reality is fundamentally ordered; despite appalling injustice, we affirm that the ultimate reality is justice; despite cruelty, we affirm that the ultimate reality is love; despite the twisted lies and distortions, we affirm that the ultimate reality is truth – even if in the moment it is impossible to feel or to believe.
After such a shattering, many of us have the impulse to flee to our own numbness, willful blindnesses, and protective narratives – anything we can do to not have to confront this horror as our new reality. Self protection is natural and understandable, but from that place of retreat, healing can not happen. There can be no healing for us, and no healing for the brokenness in the world. To repair that brokenness we need each other.
The best thing we can do in the chaos of loss, is to come together for comfort and healing and, eventually, to be able to work to create a kinder world. This need to join together for healing is reiterated with each death in the practice of shiva — not to flee, but to sit in the new, shattered reality surrounded by comforters.
The name of the synagogue where this atrocity occurred, Tree of Life (עֵץ-חַיִּים), comes from the verse in Proverbs quoted above, “It is a tree of life to those who grasp onto it, and whoever holds on to it is happy.” This tree-of-life is understood in our tradition to refer to the Torah – our source of wisdom and connection to God. We sing this verse every time we return the Torah scroll to the ark. We have a tree of life, the Torah and our tradition, if we can grasp onto it. We have each other as a source of strength and healing, if we hold onto each other.
May this awful shattering bring our Jewish community closer and strengthen our connections both to our tradition and to our neighbors who stand with us in grief and commitment to a world of greater justice, love and peace.
I hope to see you at Temple Ahvata Achim on Friday evening, November 2. taagloucester.org
May all beings be safe and free from fear, may all enjoy a long, healthy life and solidarity with good neighbors.
Very best wishes,