Last Saturday, 11 Jews in Pittsburgh, Pa were murdered during their Shabbat morning prayers. Each had a name. Each had a story. Each had a life behind and ahead of them. Each should still be with us today. But they are not. They join the countless dead who have been murdered by their fellow human beings, filled with hate, turned toward violence. We live in a world where the simple act of living each day has become an act of courage. But maybe it’s always been that way. In fact, it probably has. Being a human being takes courage. Life, and the affirmation thereof, take courage.
I’ll never forget the feeling of disbelief, numbness, heaviness, and helplessness I felt last Saturday morning as I sat in a Moe’s restaurant with my family, having an early lunch. Unable to comprehend, unable to look away. Feeling like my phone had become a messenger of the most sickening and devastating news. At a certain point, all I could do was eat lunch and then walk a bit with my family.
But since then, I have seen so much good in the world that it’s hard to know what to do with it. From the heartfelt immediate responses of the Middle School students of The Davis Academy to the outpouring of support from all corners of the interfaith community in Atlanta and around the country. From the kind and comforting support of law enforcement and civic leaders to the urgent voices of my rabbinical colleagues simultaneously speaking words of comfort and prophetic critique. I have seen beauty. I have seen courage. I have seen dignity. I have seen blessing. Never has the urgency of Judaism felt more clear. Never has the possibility of communal and cultural transformation felt more real and within reach. There’s something happening here. Or at least there might be. Have we suffered enough, individually and collectively, to begin the process of transforming our suffering?
Tonight I joined more than 1,000 fellow human beings for Shabbat evening services at The Temple. The large numbers were a response to what happened in Pittsburgh, but also an intentional effort to bring Jews and non-Jews alike to #ShowUpforShabbat. And they did. Most meaningful to me was talking with two men, individually, neither of who had ever been to synagogue. It felt so sacred to welcome them to our house of worship and to affirm and bear witness to their desire to be among the Jewish people in our hour of need and on Shabbat.
I am certain that what took place at The Temple tonight took place across the country at synagogues of all types and denominations. Tonight the American Jewish community had a chance to say, “This is who we are. This is what we value. This is how we come together. This is how we pray.” Our clergy said it. Our leadership said it. And most importantly, our teens said it. We sang it. We prayed it. We preached it. And we shared it with others.
As a friend said, “Jews do well in times of crisis.” Which is true. And which raises the possibility that future weeks will see the predictable “return to normal” for Jews and the rest of us out there. But I’m hoping for a different story. I’m hoping that the time has finally come when all decent people of all walks of life realize that our entire age is a time of crisis and that the only way to make things better and avoid falling completely into chaos and despair, is for all of us to join forces, break down walls, learn to listen, soften our hearts, embrace our differences, leverage our commonalities, and start to mend the wounds that cripple us.