I did not know any of the victims who lost their lives in the middle of Shabbat services last Saturday. But in a way I knew all of them. Or at least understood the connection they felt to the Tree of Life synagogue. Having grown up in an observant family, I spent my entire youth in a sanctuary, social hall or Hebrew School classroom. As an adult, I am a member of a vibrant Temple in Long Island that has been my family’s Jewish address for decades. I know how strong the bond when you greet fellow congregants’ week after week, year after year. When you know their families, their burdens and blessings, when you celebrate their simchas and stay close during their sorrows. When together you chant ancient melodies that fill your body with sway and rise for the opening of the ark. Be still. The Torah is about to be read.
How is it possible that the lives of eleven beautiful souls could be snuffed out in the very place they found peace and fulfillment? Shared holidays and traditions? Educated their children?
It has always been possible. Maybe even probable, for to be a Jew one must expect the inevitable. Trouble in school, on a team, at work or even among friends who make derogatory comments with little concern of push back. To be a Jew is to prepare for the eventual insult, fight or lost opportunity. The reminder that you are an outsider. Unwelcome. And so, it is both a matter of logic and survival that we remain united by a house of worship. That we pray with those who have experienced the same hurt. Confronted the same risks. Lived lives that matter in spite the bigotry and hatred in our paths.
To be a Jew is to also know a fundamental truth. We can have fear, or we can have faith, but we cannot have both. Especially when facing acts of violence. For this too is true. Jews will always stand up to the haters and demand justice. And though a derelict coward like Robert Bowers felt certain of his martyrdom, he will soon discover that the Squirrel Hill community and the country are emboldened. His punishment will be severe.
Yet how to navigate our pain in days of despair? Many will say they are at a loss for words, but they are forgetting the volumes of prayers and poems which ignite hope. The songs that touch our souls. The inspiring words from great leaders that lead us from the abyss. And, when one cannot find solace in the words of others, they must listen to their own hearts for the loving messages they long to hear are always within.
But today, in this period of great mourning, there are 22 words we can all say aloud regardless of religious affiliation. 22 words filled with commemoration and respect. 22 words that will remind us of our humanity and the need to share our courage. 22 words of enduring love that will help to heal our broken hearts.
Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, Irving Younger
As it has been said from generation to generation, may their memories be a for a blessing now and forever.