A Rabbi’s Letter to his Community on Hearing of the Slaughter at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh
With heavy hearts we hold each other, reaching out and encircling with love. Shabbos peace was shattered today, but not the Shabbos hope for a world of peace. I only heard toward the end of Shabbos, from someone knocking on the door, of the horrific shooting today at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. We joyfully celebrated a Bas Mitzvah this morning, oblivious to the terror that engulfed others of our extended Jewish family. We are joined with them in pain and sorrow, sending with so many others our grief filled prayers that might somehow offer comfort, if simply to know that we are one.
At the start of this evening's long-planned Jewish Arts program, we made Havdallah together, a large circle taking in the sweetness, the bitter-sweetness now, even more so than the usual touch of melancholy as Shabbos leaves. Havdallah marks the transition from Shabbos peace, its wholeness and sweetness, to the days of the week. Today that wholeness was shattered and with Havdallah we seek transition from the violence and hate of this world, of this country, of this time. The hope of Shabbos for a better time, its yearning for the day that is all Shabbos, is forever intact, inspiring and urging us to go out from Shabbos and help to bring that time. As this week begins, we go out as mourners determined to say with our deeds a great amen to the blessing held in the memory of each precious life that was taken today.
Near the end of Shabbos my office phone rang. I didn't answer because it was still Shabbos. Then immediately my cell phone rang and I knew I needed to get it. It was the minister of Bethel AME calling with condolences and to offer a prayer. It was three years ago that we gathered in his church to mourn with the African American community in response to the massacre at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. As we have reached out and stood with the African American community, as we have reached out and stood with immigrants, as we have reached out and stood with all of those who are hunted and hounded and hated in this country today, they now reach out and stand with us. Racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and all other hatreds are part of the same web of hate that poisons our country, a hatred that we have known as Jews throughout our history and to which we continue to respond proudly as Jews.
Many text messages and emails have been coming in tonight from the interfaith community of which we are so much a part. There was a police car parked outside tonight during our program. Though its presence did not make me feel less vulnerable, when I went out to thank the officers, I was touched by their offer of condolence. Similarly, just now as I write, a call came from a police liaison officer to remind us of their presence and partnership.
As we come together as Jews, joined from one holy community to another, we are encircled by the love of all of those who now reach out to us. We hold their love as part of one circle of light, together becoming the wine, the spices, the light of Havdallah. Going into this week of sadness, knowing that so many of our people in Pittsburgh will begin to sit shiva in the coming days, we will strive nevertheless to infuse the days ahead with the essence of Shabbos.
We will be its gentle joy, its sweetness, its light, a light that shines brighter because we are joined together with so many good people, joined as the many wicks of the braided Havdallah candle. Shabbos peace was shattered today, but not its hope for the world. In spite of all, Shavua tov, a week that is good because we fill it with goodness,
Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein
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