After Pittsburgh, a desire for action instead of simply shedding more tears
At a loss after the shooting in Pittsburgh, I entered the vigil held at B’nai Israel Temple in Spartanburg searching for … to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t completely sure. But I knew I yearned to give some sort of sympathy, comfort, understanding.
But how could I, I wondered, finding a spot in the rear of the temple within a group of men who had chosen to stand in order to free the few open folding chairs remaining. I could sympathize but certainly not empathize. I have never been the target of violence because of my beliefs. I have never lost family members, beloved friends, to the horror of genocide.
My Northern European ancestry seems omitted from the hate-speak of empowered groups within my country. Unlike friends of mine, who feel uneasy wearing their Star of David in city centers, I don’t think twice about fastening the delicate chain around my neck from which my mother’s gold cross hangs. As much as I desire, it’s short of folly to suggest I could ever truly relate.
I saw Muslims in attendance, indeed Rabbi Liebowitz spoke of a Muslim gentleman who extended his hand to simply say, “I am so very sorry,” and how that heartfelt gesture would remain with him all his life. Christian priests of various denominations who, we were told, had immediately gotten in touch after the tragedy to ask how they could help, were seated on either side of the Rabbi to offer brief statements of support.
One priest voiced his dismay over how such a horror could happen, couldn’t understand why it keeps happening. Implored what was needed was more prayer. To come together and pray more. I couldn’t help but to feel the bitter irony of his heartfelt statement. After all, wasn’t that exactly what the faithful members of The Tree of Life were doing when they were attacked?
Another firmly stated that it is our moral obligation — all of us — to confront and condemn hatespeak whenever we encounter it. That I could absorb as it was something that required an action, something I could do, rather than simply shed more tears, attend another vigil.
Rabbi Yossi led us in the beautiful, traditional readings of mourning, both spoken and sung in the rich, round timbre of his voice. He explained to those of us ignorant of the history of the poetess, Hannah Senesh, how she she wrote Eli, Eli, after learning the fate of European Jews during the Holocaust. She would later become captured, tortured for weeks and killed after parachuting into Europe to create contact with resistance fighters. How haunting the words.
I pray that it never will end. The sand and the sea and the waves breaking and sighing and high over the water the wind blowing free. The lightning and rain and the darkness descending and ever and ever the nature of man
Tears streamed in silence. At the Rabbi’s prompting, hands were linked towards the end of the vigil. Despair had weighed heavily, compassion and hope eased its pressure. Peace descended. From the moment a congregant kindly gestured me towards an open seat, saying, “Please,” and declining to take it himself, to the privilege of grasping the hand on either side of me and feeling another upon my arm, I received so much more than I could have ever given.
And to them, I’m quite sure, there is nothing extraordinary about that.