This week we read in the Torah about the death and burial of our ancestor Sarah in the cave of Machpelah; the same place where Abraham is also later buried. As a shared ancestor with fellow Muslims, this grave is a holy site for both Jews and Muslims. In recent decades, the site has been one of unspeakable violence. Which begs the question, how do we honor our dead?
Earlier this week, I shared some of the Jewish responses we say to each other in time of grief. There is one final greeting that gets spoken about the dead - זיכרונם לברכה / zikhronam livrakha, may their memories be a blessing. This is the highest calling of Jewish tradition, to lift up the memories of our loved ones as sources of blessing, as vessels of love, as legacies of purpose.
This morning a group of us gathered for shiva in the streets. As we read the name of each person who had been killed in Pittsburgh and Kentucky, we shared a short snippet of their life. They were people who volunteered in dental clinics and cared for people living with HIV/AIDS. They were people who arrived early at synagogue to greet people at the door. They were siblings, spouses, and grandparents, they were pillars of their communities.
I have had moments this week of incapacitating grief. I have had moments of fortified courage. And most profoundly, I have felt so inspired by the response of Pittsburgh Jewish leaders.
Dove Kent writes:
"Jewish leaders in Pittsburgh had the resolve to write a letter to Trump that set fire, changed the national conversation, and unmasked Trump for the white nationalist that he is. For this public bravery and resolve, we all know there are risks. There is every reason in the world for them to go silent and retreat. And yet they were completely committed to planning an action, a ritual to heal their community's grief and to use whatever energy they had left and the critical moment they knew they were in -- to strike a blow against the violent white nationalist movement that killed 11 of their beloved neighbors and friends...
With shaking hands and hearts of purpose, they did what was needed. They led 5,000 people in a beautiful rebuke of Trump. They had the Mayor and a slew of elected officials joining them to say Trump is not welcome in Pittsburgh. They caused Trump to change his plan and end his visit early, with no public statements whatsoever -- in effect kicking him out of town. They changed the story. They have made things possible that seemed impossible."
What did the Jewish community in Pittsburgh do with their grief?
They came together in community, in prayer, in song, in resistance to white nationalism, to shape history.
What will we do with ours?
Grief, sadness, and fear are potent, visceral energies in our body.
How can we direct them towards justice? How can we channel the intensity of this moment to make their memories a blessing?
I encourage you all to come sing, mourn, and draw strength from our community. And then to spend whatever time and energy you have getting out the vote!
May this truly be a shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.