Going to Temple the First Shabbat after Pittsburgh

November 3, 2018
Like Jews around the world, I spent Friday night at services at my temple last night, surrounded by family, friends and non-Jews who wanted to show their solidarity with us at the first Shabbat services since 11 Jews were murdered in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

I sat in between my husband and my 10-year-old son. We wanted to be there with our Jewish community last night. We often go to Shabbat services, anyway, but there was a pull to show our Jewishness in a very visible way by being present, by singing the familiar prayers, by praying for healing and for peace. There was a pull, also, to hear and remember the names of the 11 Jews killed, to say the Mourner’s Kaddish and to think of them.

There was a pull, too, to sneak a glimpse behind me to see just how full the sanctuary was. Our temple in Lexington, Mass., a Boston suburb, had drawn nearly 1,000 people, nearly as much as we would have at Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah, our holiest days of the year. At a typical Friday night service, there may be between 30 to 50 of us. On Saturday mornings, when there is a smaller, lay-led service, there may be a dozen.

I felt the need to write an extra newsletter for my #FaithEd subscribers because this event will be etched into all of our memories — Jews and non-Jews alike — forever. I spoke on Radio Boston, a WBUR radio program this week, about how we talk to our children, especially Jewish ones, about something like this. I mentioned that it was both a Jewish and an American tragedy. If I had had the air time, I would have spoken more about how, as a Jewish parent, I was having to do something that African American parents have to do a lot more often. I had to make my son aware of the hate people hold against Jews merely because we believe something different than they do. I also had to reassure him that he was safe, even as I wanted him to know the reality about the world we live in, something I wrote about in an essay for WBUR’s Cognoscenti. The Tree of Life shootings are yet another attack on a house of worship in America. I can’t speak of the attack without also thinking of the victims of the Charleston, S.C., shooting at an African American church or of the Sikhs who lost their lives when a gunman began shooting inside the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisc. This is not the first time. Sadly, realistically, it will not be the last time a bigoted person with an assault rifle or some other assortment of guns kills others because of their religious beliefs or because of the color of their skin. A black couple was killed in a Kroger grocery store in Kentucky on Oct. 24 by a shooter who allegedly first tried to enter an African American church and kill people, news reports said..

We all have roles we can play in the aftermath of these tragedies. I will continue to try to do mine, as the author of a book on teaching about the world’s religions in schools who gives frequent talks on combating religious intolerance with education. I know that education alone can’t prevent someone from shooting up a house of worship. But I have to believe that education done well can help in the fight against religious intolerance and hate. I will always believe that the earlier we teach our children and students about different religions, the better chance we have to create a more respectful society.

Tomorrow, I head to Toronto to participate in the Parliament of the World’s Religions. I’ll be there signing books, but also meeting people and learning about other faiths. I’ll participate in a panel. I will carry with me the memory of last night at Temple Isaiah and how we stood with pain as well as pride in our faith. Our cantor, Lisa Doob, sang several songs she had written, including one about opening hearts with love and one simply called, “Hineini,” which means, “Here I am.” Sometimes the most significant step we can take is to be present, to announce, “Here I am,” and I am making my voice heard. 

May the memories of their loved ones comfort the families of brothers David Rosenthal and Cecil Rosenthal; Richard Gottfried; Jerry Rabinowitz; Irving Younger; Daniel Stein; Joyce Fienberg; Melvin Wax; the married couple of Bernice Simon and Sylvan Simon; and Rose Mallinger. May we remember them for the lives they led.

Last night, at my temple, we also sang Mi sheiberach, a prayer of healing, as we often do and especially thought of those injured in the shooting as well, including police officers.

At first I had no words to write when this happened. Now I cannot stop writing them. It has brought me back to memories of childhood and the anti-Semitism, and I wrote about those memories on Facebook not long after the shootings. As upset as I am, I refuse to be afraid.
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