Af­ter Pitts­burgh, a de­sire for ac­tion in­stead of sim­ply shed­ding more tears

The Sun News (Sunday) - - Puzzles - BY PAM STONE

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.

ELI, ELI

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.

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