Rabbi David Ellenson, PhD & Chancellor Arnold Eisen, PhD – March 15, 2019
From the Rabbi David Lyon
“Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh,” All Jews are responsible for each other
I’m reeling from the shock and horror of the carnage in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill synagogue, Tree of Life. The aftermath of it put many matters into perspective for me. Jewish lives and moral outrage have taken center stage. Nothing else matters (new hashtag). The news cycle will turn soon and, sadly, another shooting somewhere else will replace this one. But, nothing can undo the damage done to our collective Jewish psyche until we begin to repair the damaged synagogue and Jewish lives in Squirrel Hill.
First, we’ll mourn. The lives that have been taken and the lives that have been shattered deserve our respect. Though we’re not mourners by definition, we must empathize with our fellow Jews, as they accompany their loved ones to the cemetery. We must sympathize with their losses of beloved family members who came to their synagogue to honor God on Shabbat. Now, we’ll read their names with our own as we prepare to recite Kaddish on Shabbat.
Next, we must participate in rebuilding the brokenness that a deranged antisemite left behind. At Congregation Beth Israel, we’ve rebuilt our homes and synagogue after they were drowned in flood waters. We did it with the help of Jewish communities around the country, and with help from the State of Israel. It’s our turn to rebuild the Tree of Life synagogue by lending our hands to them. In coming days, we will collect funds at Beth Israel in a designated account. At the end of Sheloshim, the thirtieth day after burial of their beloved, we’ll send the funds to the community so that they can begin their renewal.
Finally, we must all be awakened to the steady rise of anti-Semitic acts in the U.S. We’re not alone in our concern. Multi-faith leaders have quickly surrounded us with their prayers and helping hands. They’ve addressed their respective congregations to repel antisemitism and bigotry of every kind, and urged them to find the common good that binds us and the common ground on which we can all stand. Golden Rules are threads that tie us together as God’s children. The particular ways that we pray still link us to a universal God; and, those who pray in ways that are far different than our own still cherish values that highlight love, unity, and peace among humankind.
We must believe that these timely and timeless are enduring and durable. I do. We must act intentionally to advocate for our values and cherished rights. I will. We must be good neighbors who link arms in our commitment to overcome this evil for the sake of the good. I can and I want you to join me.
Let’s enter this Shabbat with new resolve. Let it be for deeper and stronger personal commitment to Jewish needs in the present and the future. Let it be for greater personal commitments to Jewish learning about our history, our heritage, and our hopes. Let it be for greater personal expressions of gratitude for what we have and what we can give all those who long for wholeness, too.
The “Tree of Life” is Torah. As we read in Proverbs, “A good doctrine has been given to you; do not forsake it. It is a tree of life to them that hold fast to it, and all of its supporters are happy. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.” Out of the tragedy in Pittsburgh, the Jewish people will rise again, together. Torah will sustain us.
On Friday evening, our Sabbath of Comfort will begin at 6:30pm. For one hour, we’ll share familiar prayers and hear meaningful words to soften the blow and rebuild our faith in humankind. We’re taught to pray as if everything depends on God; and, to act as if everything depends on us. Let’s not waste another minute to use our heads and hearts to guide our hands to build communities of faith and understanding.
Rabbi David A. Lyon is Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, TX. Rabbi Lyon serves on the Board of Trustees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and chairs its professional development committee. He can be heard on “iHeart-Radio” KODA 99.1 FM every Sunday at 6:45am CST, and he is the author of God of Me: Imagining God Throughout Your Lifetime (Jewish Lights, 2011) available on Amazon.com.