A Message of Grief and Hope

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Editor’s Note: This message was originally sent out on Sunday, Oct.28, the day after the tragedy in Pittsburgh.

Oh, if only my head were a spring of water and my eye a fountain of tears! I would weep all day and night for the slain of my dear people.

Jeremiah 8:23

Our grief is overwhelming as we process the tragedy that has befallen the worshipers at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. This tragedy has swept over the entire Jewish community everywhere and has spread to affect all decent people in our country and beyond.

The news on Shabbat arrived as we were in the midst of celebrating a Bar Mitzvah with one of our cherished families. Our sanctuary was filled. We sang together that out Torah is a “tree of life to all who hold it tight.” The dissonance between our own prayers – identical to those offered at Tree of Life Synagogue – and the murderous violence inflicted there could not be more extreme.

Our hearts break for the victims and all their loved ones. We feel so close and yet so far from our brothers and sisters. And we are filled with perplexity as well as sorrow and rage. What do we need to do in response to this tragedy? How can we be of help? How shall we hold tight to the life-affirming values of our Torah in the face of attack? Is there a path toward healing – for our own souls, for the community and for this ravaged society?

On the night of the shooting,  Congregation Shomrei Emunah co-sponsored a vigil along with our neighboring congregations, Bnai Keshet and Temple Ner Tamid. The sanctuary at Bnai Keshet was filled with mourners. We stood together in prayer and song, in silence, in weeping, in reflection and in determination.

We were blessed, as well, to be joined by friends from other faith traditions. The Imam of the Montclair Masjid (mosque), Kevin Dawud Amin, stood with us and declared his solidarity and that of his community. Pastor David Noble, from Central Presbyterian Church and Rev. Robin Tanner from Beacon Unitarian Church in Summit both participated. I was grateful to see other faith leaders in the crowd, including Rev. Elizabeth Campbell, and Rev. Allen Shelton from Montclair, and Archange Antoine from Faith in New Jersey. Other clergy also embraced us through personal notes and messages.

Our vigil offers some lessons and some hope.

–       We draw strength and consolation from community and from each other. We need to keep showing up for each other and for our own sakes.

–       We have allies. The faith leaders and other non-Jews who came to be with us did so spontaneously and out of genuine concern and fellow feeling.

–       Just as our pain is shared by others, we must share the pain of others. Anti-semitic attacks are on the rise along with attacks on many other groups – Muslims, gays, people of color, women, etc. If we need them to stand with us we also need to stand with them.

–       The murderer was explicit in his rage against HIAS for its work in welcoming refugees. The blood spilled by the martyrs of Tree of Life Synagogue calls out for our strengthened support for refuges and all marginalized and needy people everywhere.

–       The resistance and opposition to mindless violence lies not in resorting to more violence. Our prayers and songs and peaceful embrace were precisely the expressions of goodness that so infuriate our enemies. That is our real  power. So we continued to offer special prayers this morning at Shomrei’s Sunday morning minyan.

If we take these lessons to heart we may find meaningful and effective ways to move forward, to heal our wounds and to stand for what is right and holy in life. If you would like to sit together with me – in silence, in tears, in anger or in reflective discussion – please contact me so that we can join hands and hearts together:

My phone:  973-746-5031 ext. 2;
My email: email hidden; JavaScript is required


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Rabbi David Greenstein

Rabbi David Greenstein

Rabbi David Greenstein arrived at Shomrei Emunah in August 2009 with a rich, broad and deep background as a rabbi, cantor, artist, scholar, and teacher. Being Shomrei’s rabbi, he says, allows him to draw on all of these passions, as well as his lifelong commitment to building Jewish communities.
Rabbi David Greenstein

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