Separating the Profane
“Let’s do havdalah tonight,” I said to Leah. For our non-Jewish friends, this is the little ceremony that marks the end of Shabbos and the beginning of the normal week. We highlight the partition between the sacred and the profane, between that island of holiness in our daily lives that is Shabbos, and the mundane of our daily lives.
With 11 dead at the time I write this, after a gunman opened fire in a synagogue on the day of a baby-naming at a Pittsburgh synagogue, predicating his onslaught with “All Jews must die!” After a heinous, anti-Semitic mass murder, it’s hard to feel like the day wasn’t already profaned.
When a Bangor Police Department cruiser pulled up in front of our synagogue today, I was concerned. I wasn’t yet aware of what happened in Pittsburgh. Leah and I are from Pennsylvania, albeit the other end of the state, but Jewish geography being a thing, we have camp friends, rabbinical friends, and others in the Squirrel Hill Jewish community. A friend from high school used to go to that synagogue with her grandparents. It was like a punch in the gut, to read about an event as festive as a baby naming being turned into a slaughterhouse.
I expect all of us within the Jewish community to have a variety of reactions to this. I’m sure it will be a topic for discussion at our annual meeting tomorrow for our synagogue. Over a decade ago, I was doxed on a neo-Nazi website. Back then, I called them a bunch of all smoke, no fire wankers. Today, I’d take that threat significantly more seriously.
For me, I think I really needed to hear the words of the introductory paragraph to havadalah, whether I believe them or not, they are always a comfort.
Behold, G-d is my salvation, I shall trust and not fear.
But I am afraid. Not for me. I’m a soldier. I fear for my children, and the other children of our congregations. It’s already hard enough to get a teenager to shul. The threat of anti-Semitism, we live with it every day. It greases the wheels for assimilation and going along to get along. Our children live with it any time their Jewishness is going to come up, whether in an 8th Grade Holocaust curriculum unit, or when your child has to miss a game on Saturday because Shabbos is more important. Some of our children take pride in putting their Jewishness first, but it’s not easy to maintain if there’s a threat of violence just by crossing the threshold of a synagogue.
But I wear a kippah and my tzitzit flow everywhere I go. I will continue to show people that I am not afraid, I will be a proud Jew. More importantly, I will always remember that I am a servant of the Holy One.
Hashem, Master of legions, is with us.
Is G-d really with us? I mean, really? We might praise the person who trusts in G-d, but it doesn’t save them from death. Nothing does.
I’ve accused G-d, from time to time, of being an absentee landlord. I don’t put stock in miracles, and I don’t believe in an interventionist G-d. I believe we do our best, we take our licks, we enjoy the good. Or we do our worst, and the same thing happens. If there’s divine reward, great. In the meantime, there’s no assurance of goodness in the here and now. No promise of long years.
But I’d like to think, that when someone murders our people, there is a cosmic consequence. G-d knows there’s often no justice in this life. So it’s good to know we’ve got something in our corner, even if it’s invisible and non-participatory.
I will raise the cup of salvations, and I shall invoke the name of Hashem.
I did that, tonight, and I meant it. But as generations before, I can only speculate if we’re at some sort of turning point.
I am so proud of being Jewish. It’s not just a set of ethics. It’s a way of life, it’s a relationship to a people and to the Divine. Tonight, we are all weeping. Some Jews are just now hearing of this tragedy for the first time, as the sun goes down and the stars come out on this horrible, tragic Shabbos.
Today’s parsha, Vayera, was the binding of Isaac, the Akeidah, and today, Jews died on an altar built of an irrational hate. A hate so powerful that it cannot differentiate between a vision of evil they hold of us in their heads and the humanity of a community blessing their children in a way that should be familiar to any human with a shred of decency. Whether it kills eleven or 6 million, it begins with depriving us of our humanity, and ends with depriving us of our lives.
For all of us, to quote Gott Fun Avrohom, “may this week arrive for kindness, for good fortune, for blessing, for success, for wealth and honor, and for children, life, and sustenance, for us and all Israel.”
The Squirrel Hill Jewish community may not be feeling it right now, but may G-d comfort them among the mourners of Jerusalem, and may the memories of the dead be remembered for a blessing.