Even amid sad­ness, chances for bless­ing

Sentinel-Review (Woodstock) - - OPINION - RABBI ADAM SCHEIER Adam Scheier is rabbi of Con­gre­ga­tion Shaar Hashomayim in Mon­treal.

I re­cently learned about the “Pitts­burgh Left.” This refers not to a pro­gres­sive po­lit­i­cal move­ment but to a gen­teel, al­beit be­nignly il­le­gal, traf­fic norm: as the light turns green, one al­lows the first on­com­ing car to make a left. It’s a small cour­tesy, for sure, but a spe­cial ges­ture that makes an im­pact on a vis­i­tor.

Last week, I was one of those vis­i­tors. In sol­i­dar­ity, I rep­re­sented the Jewish com­mu­nity of Mon­treal at fu­ner­als for vic­tims of Oct. 27’s ter­ror at­tack, when an anti-Semite opened fire at Con­gre­ga­tion Tree of Life dur­ing Shab­bat morn­ing prayers. My visit to Pitts­burgh wit­nessed a great deal of pain. I en­coun­tered the fear of a com­mu­nity whose sa­cred space was vi­o­lated; the per­sonal loss of in­di­vid­u­als whose rel­a­tives or friends were mur­dered; the stress of a small Jewish com­mu­nity thrust into a po­lit­i­cal storm and me­dia frenzy, all the while tend­ing to their dead. Jewish tra­di­tion teaches that, even in mo­ments of sad­ness, the op­por­tu­nity for bless­ing emerges. In the days fol­low­ing the mas­sacre, I was over­whelmed by the many kind­nesses I en­coun­tered. Mes­sages of con­do­lence quickly ar­rived. Neigh­bours knocked on my door to ex­press sym­pa­thies; po­lit­i­cal lead­ers called and emailed notes of sol­i­dar­ity; a Mus­lim friend from Que­bec City, whom I had reached out to with sym­pa­thies fol­low­ing last year’s at­tack on the Cen­tre Cul­turel Is­lamique de Québec, re­cip­ro­cated. These kind sen­ti­ments seemed to in­tuit our Jewish com­mu­nity’s ex­pe­ri­ence of the Pitts­burgh at­tack as a deeply per­sonal one. Sim­ply put, the vic­tims were mur­dered for one rea­son: they were Jewish. There­fore, it was an at­tack on ev­ery Jew. In at­tend­ing fu­ner­als in Pitts­burgh, I learned the beauty of a life must not be ex­tin­guished by the tragic cir­cum­stances of death.

I learned Irv­ing Younger was the syn­a­gogue’s un­of­fi­cial greeter, stand­ing at the back of the sanc­tu­ary and hand­ing prayer books to those who en­tered.

I learned Joyce Fien­berg, raised and ed­u­cated in On­tario, was a con­sum­mate giver who would qui­etly per­form count­less good deeds for oth­ers.

I learned true kind­ness pre­vails in Pitts­burgh. Peo­ple seemed to just want to do some­thing, to help in some way, to al­le­vi­ate the pain ever so slightly. For some, help meant fi­nan­cial sup­port. A lo­cal Mus­lim com­mu­nity raised tens of thou­sands dol­lars to cover fu­neral costs; two stu­dents from Park­land High School, sur­vivors of Fe­bru­ary’s at­tack, called in a dona­tion of $54 to the Tree of

Life Con­gre­ga­tion (Jews com­monly give char­ity in mul­ti­ples of 18, the num­ber that tra­di­tion­ally con­notes life).

For oth­ers, kind­ness meant do­ing any­thing in their power to help out. My flight to Pitts­burgh in­volved a brief lay­over at Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port, and a me­chan­i­cal de­lay in Mon­treal jeop­ar­dized this con­nec­tion. As I dis­cussed my op­tions with a desk agent (af­ter we had de­planed to al­low work to be done), the plane’s first of­fi­cer over­heard our con­ver­sa­tion. “Where are you try­ing to go?” he asked. As I an­swered “Pitts­burgh,” I saw his eyes look up at my kip­pah. I an­swered his un­spo­ken ques­tion. “I’m a rabbi, trav­el­ling in sol­i­dar­ity, and to of­fer com­fort to the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies.” He said, “I’ll see what I can do.” He sub­mit­ted the re­quest that the con­nect­ing flight wait for me; he changed our ar­rival gate to be right next to the Pitts­burgh flight; and he of­fered me words of com­fort and sup­port as I hur­ried off of his plane to make my con­nec­tion.

There is, un­de­ni­ably, evil in the world. I strongly be­lieve that, while not ev­ery sit­u­a­tion is good, good can come from any sit­u­a­tion. The killing of 11 in­no­cent wor­ship­pers last Shab­bat is an un­de­ni­able tragedy; the many acts of com­pas­sion that fol­lowed this ter­ri­ble day will be foun­da­tions of the heal­ing process.

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