Do not be daunted by
the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to complete the work,
but neither are you free to abandon it.
~ The Talmud
My husband came home from leading Shabbat services yesterday, walking into our home more quietly than usual. His voice barely more than a whisper, he called me into our bedroom to tell me something out of earshot of our children. I thought he was going to tell me that his mother had died, since he was flying out that afternoon to see her.
“There was a massacre in a synagogue in Pittsburgh this morning,” he told me. I looked in his eyes and wrapped my arms around him, and he began to sob as I held him. This strong, calm man who is a leader in our Jewish community; who has a way of maintaining equanimity through the most difficult times. My husband who is a head taller than me and at least one and a half times my weight let me do the only thing I could do in that moment – hold him. Cry with him.
His phone buzzed in his pocket and he began exchanging messages with his colleagues, conversations about security, about protecting our children at religious school the next day, about how we come together as a community in spite of, or perhaps to assuage, our fear. He was still sending these messages as I drove him to the airport, and when I dropped him off.
Then I went to run an errand before heading home to our children. Roaming stunned and aimless through the store, I found this little sign, one small but tenuous word: HOPE. This small thing was suddenly the most important thing in the store to me, and I held it as I continued on to get what I had come for. I brought it home and put it on the bookcase in my sunroom.
This morning I drove our children to Sunday school at our congregation, the one my husband leads. I reminded my teenager to be aware of her surroundings and to let an adult know if she saw anything suspicious. I let my five-year-old remain unaware of how cruel people and the world can be, for a little while longer.
I parked my car behind one of the two police cars in the parking lot, the one with red and blue lights blinking. The parking lot was full. Parents and children streamed into our synagogue. Our emeritus rabbi and our cantor and a member of our board welcomed families as they arrived. We exchanged hugs.
THE PARKING LOT WAS FULL.
FAMILIES STREAMED IN.
Unintimidated, undaunted, even amid our collective fear and the weight of our sorrow.
Police officers patrolled the area, ensuring our safety. Everybody was talking about Pittsburgh. About antisemitism, about nationalism, about racism and discrimination and fear and fear and fear.
So much fear.
Of the other.
Of each other.
I am proud to be Jewish; I always have been. And today I am scared to even write this, to declare so publicly, in this space that anyone can read, that I am a Jew. Today in America, and in our world that feels like it is on a collision course with nationalism and authoritarianism, that is terrifying to declare.
I am the grandchild of Holocaust survivors and so is my husband. My family on both sides were forced to leave their homes in Poland and in Egypt as refugees in the late 1940s. I work with and on behalf of today’s refugees; today’s immigrants and victims of violence who are here seeking refuge. I have a black son; his ancestors came to this land in chains.
We are Jewish.
This is personal.
And my silence only helps to let them win. But darkness can’t win, and neither can fear. That is not what my grandparents survived for.
So until my heart feels less in tatters and hope feels less tenuous, I’ll keep looking at the little sign on my bookshelf and I’ll remember this:
In my heart, LOVE WINS.