Sunday, November 4, 2018

Solidarity Shabbat After the Pittsburgh Tragedy


Parashat Chaye Sarah
Rabbi Joseph R. Black, Temple Emanuel – Denver, CO
November 2, 2018

Where were you last Saturday?
How did you hear about the tragic events that took place in Pittsburgh?

I was sitting in our Chapel, celebrating the Bat Mitzvah of a wonderful young girl when my Apple Watch started to buzz frantically with texts from colleagues, family members and concerned congregants. I normally do not respond to text messages in the middle of a service – unless I am texting our Executive Director Steve Stark to tell him that it’s too hot or too cold in the chapel….  This time I stepped out and looked at the news.

When I saw that there was a mass shooting at a Synagogue, my blood ran cold. While the final tally of destruction had not yet been posted at that time, it was clear that what was taking place was going to be horrific and life-changing for the American Jewish community.  During the service, I briefly shared what news I had learned to those present. When we took out the Shoah Scroll and told the story of its journey from Kolin, to a warehouse in Prague, to the Westminster Synagogue in London, England, and eventually here to Temple Emanuel – where it was placed in the very ark that where it began– and ended up as the spiritual center or our congregation – the raw emotions that I was experiencing were shared by everyone in our chapel.

And so now we sit – one week later – after so many things have transpired: here in our community and around the country. In a little more than 24 hours after news of the shooting reached us, our community rallied and together with the ADL, Jewish Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council, we put together a Solidarity Vigil in which over 3,000 souls came together in this sanctuary – and overflowing into our foyer and Social Hall. To see representatives from the Christian, Muslim and Sikh communities joining together on our Bema - along with the leadership of our city and State and Federal government and law enforcement was overwhelming. The tears that flowed, the powerful words that were shared, the anger angst and love combined with grief that filled our sacred space provided a necessary space and time to process and express our feelings. In the days following the Vigil, we have received hundreds of calls, letters, flowers. Emails and visits from well-wishers from multiple communities who wanted to show their love and support to the Jewish people. Truly, this is a time of both horror and wonder as we have witnessed both the worst and the best of humanity coming together at one and the same time.

Even though the last of the funerals for the victims of this shooting was today, Jews around the world have been mourning since we received word of this horror. In Jewish tradition, after 7 days of mourning, we symbolically rise from our mourning and conclude Shiva. This Shabbat, we join with synagogues around the world as we come together in our grief and solidarity to remember our dead, recite the mourner’s kaddish and look ahead to the future.

As I thought about what I might say tonight at this service, I looked into this week’s Torah portion, Chaye Sarah. 

Like many portions in the book of Genesis, Chaye Sarah has multiple stories that are woven into the narrative.   It begins with the death of Sarah and ends with the death of Abraham.  Abraham purchases the cave of Machpelah in Hebron.  He then sends his servant to Canaan to find a wife for Isaac. At the end of the parasha, Abraham dies.  
Our text reads as follows:
Genesis 25:8-10:  Then Abraham passed on, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre; The field which Abraham purchased from the Hittites; there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.”

One of the most remarkable aspects of this text is the fact that Isaac and Ishmael bury their father together.  If you recall, the last we have heard of Ishmael was when Abraham sent him and his mother, Hagar, out into the wilderness because Sarah did not want Ishmael to be a threat to Isaac and his eventual birthright.  Abraham had scarred Ishmael by casting him away.  He also had scarred Isaac by almost slaughtering him on Mt. Moriah.

Abraham’s death unites these two brothers.  They both understand pain.  They both understand loss.  They both realize that, no matter what events have taken place in their lives, they are bound together by a common task and purpose.

Isaac and Ishmael had cause to hate their father –and to hate each other.   The Midrash, in particular is filled with stories of their warfare.  Yet, at the end of our parasha they come together in peace in order to bury Abraham. They realize that, despite their history, they are linked together. In burying Abraham, they are also symbolically burying the past and moving ahead to the future.

If there is anything that we can learn from this horrible tragedy, it may be found in the outpouring of love and solidarity that we experienced on Sunday.  I truly believe that is a reflection of the best that our nation has to offer. So much of the language we are hearing is divisive; the politics of isolationism and victimization have taken a toll on our souls. Especially in the days leading up to November 6 – election day-  everyone is on edge. To see people from multiple communities coming together to show their love and support in the shadow of terror is both an affirmation of what we, as a nation are all about and a powerful reflection of how we, like Isaac and Ishmael, can rise up above our divisions in solidarity and celebrate the awareness that we are all created in the image of God.

Tonight is November 2th. In one week, November 9th, 2018, we will be commemorating the 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht – the night of the Broken Glass.  Kristallnacht was the beginning of the end of European Jewry.

On that night, 80 years ago, Nazi thugs burned synagogues and destroyed Jewish businesses throughout Germany and Austria.  Jews were beaten publicly in the streets.  Men were rounded up and sent to concentration camps.  Hitler and his thugs waited to see what the reaction would be from world leaders.  The deafening silence that ensued in the shadow of terror was a clear sign to the Nazis that they had a green light to take whatever steps they wanted to rid the world of the “Jewish problem.”

My mother and her parents lived through Krystallnacht.  They were among the lucky ones.  One month later they were able to get a visa out of Germany and immigrate to the United States.

The memory of that night of terror is indelibly linked into the consciousness of our people. From the pain and horror of November 9th and the darkness and evil that it spawned, we have emerged - wounded, yet determined to honor the memory of those who perished in the Shoah and rebuild our lives, our people and our homeland.

Like Isaac and Ishmael – we were and are united by our grief and our loss.

If we can survive and thrive in the aftermath of that historical and spiritual darkness, how much the more so are we obligated to persevere in the shadow of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre?

Let us have no illusions. The battle against evil is not over. The haters who have become emboldened in recent months will not disappear overnight. They will lie beneath the surface as they always have – waiting for the next opportunity to strike. We must remain vigilant and defiant. We know that though there are those who seek to use violence fear and intimidation to accomplish their ends – we, as a people and nation must never allow hatred to determine the path along which we walk together.

Now is a time to come together and find unity in our historical memory and the vision of a world that , while incomplete, awaits for each of us to use our talents, strengths and faith to perfect God’s Creation.

We owe it to ourselves.        

We owe it to the memory of those who are no longer with us

We owe it to our nation to move on from our divisions and focus on ways that we can work to perform the mitzvah of Tikkun Olam – of repairing our all too imperfect world.

Zichronam Livracha – may the memory of the righteous be for an eternal blessing. AMEN