Af­ter the Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue shoot­ing, the world is com­ing to help

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY ERIC SOLOMON

About noon Satur­day, Oct. 27 — Shab­bat morn­ing. As the ser­vice was near­ing its con­clu­sion, the head of my syn­a­gogue’s se­cu­rity team pulled me aside.

“Rabbi,” he said in a hushed tone, “I just got a mes­sage that there is an ac­tive shooter at a syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh. Some are dead, many are wounded. It ap­pears that the mo­tive was anti-Semitic.”

Still ab­sorb­ing his words, I whis­pered in He­brew: “Blessed is the True Judge,” the Tal­mu­dic re­sponse to ter­ri­ble news. I looked out the win­dow and was stunned to see two Raleigh Po­lice SUVs parked out­side of our front doors.

“What is the world com­ing to?” I screamed inside.

Last year, I wrote about the an­nual dilemma the Jewish com­mu­nity faces when it comes to cel­e­brat­ing Hanukkah.

Do we place the can­de­labra (hanukkiah) in the win­dow for all to see? Or, do we place it on an in­ner ta­ble, wor­ried that an­tiSemites might see the lights as an in­vi­ta­tion to at­tack?

This year, given the hor­rific mas­sacre at the Tree of Life Syn­a­gogue, this age-old ques­tion for Jews is even more poignant. Now, it has taken a more somber edge.

How can the Jewish com­mu­nity cel­e­brate the Fes­ti­val of Lights when it feels like our peo­ple’s in­ner can­dles, 11 of them, have been snuffed out?

One of Hanukkah’s cus­toms might pro­vide an an­swer.

In Jewish law, a hanukkiah is only ac­cept­able for use if its eight can­dles are all on the same level.

The one ex­cep­tion is the “helper” can­dle, the shamash, a ninth whose job is to kin­dle all of the oth­ers.

Some­times, helper can­dles come as hu­man be­ings who help bring light to places of dark­ness.

Within 36 hours of the Tree of Life shoot­ing, more than 1,100 fel­low Raleigh res­i­dents, dozens of clergy, lead­ing pub­lic of­fi­cials in­clud­ing Gov. Roy Cooper and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, par­tic­i­pated in our vigil of sol­i­dar­ity. Fa­mil­iar faces and strangers from through­out the Tri­an­gle area knew and shared our hor­ror and grief. You were our helper can­dles.

Car­ing cit­i­zens sent flow­ers and cards to our syn­a­gogue. You of­fered prayers and heart­felt con­do­lences. You were our helper can­dles.

When faith com­mu­ni­ties of­fered to stand guard out­side of our Shab­bat ser­vices — you were our helper can­dles.

In this volatile time ev­ery mi­nor­ity group is in need of helper can­dles: im­mi­grants; Mus­lims; peo­ple of color; the LGBTQ com­mu­nity; and so many oth­ers.

While we are deeply grate­ful for the many acts of sup­port and kind­ness, there is still one more thing all Amer­i­cans can do. Speak up.

When you hear big­oted words shared against the vul­ner­a­ble — whether from the lips of politi­cians, re­li­gious lead­ers, co-work­ers, fam­ily mem­bers, or the tapped key strokes to so­cial me­dia friends —the hate­ful rhetoric must be nipped in the bud.

You must raise your voice.

As the Book of Proverbs says, “Life and Death are in the power of the tongue.”

This Hanukkah, as the Jewish com­mu­nity goes to light the first can­dle, we will feel Amer­i­cans’ col­lec­tive hand help­ing us kin­dle that first light.

You will be our shamash, a helper can­dle filled with love.

A month ago, when I first heard about the mas­sacre of 11 pre­cious souls, I asked: “What is the world com­ing to?”

Now, I’ve seen the an­swer.

The world is com­ing to help.

Rabbi Eric Solomon is a spir­i­tual leader of Beth Meyer Syn­a­gogue in Raleigh and serves on the board of Truah: The Rab­binic Call For Hu­man Rights.

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