Being a rabbi- It’s generally my job to know what to say in difficult situations. This past week however, has been a significant challenge. I’m sure none of you are unaware that last Shabbat saw 11 people murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Words often fail to capture the weight of feeling on seeing, reading, and hearing about the carnage that took place there less than a week ago.
Sometimes silence is okay- but we also can’t forget that our tradition gives us lots of words to use when we grieve, and sadly, we’ve had to grieve in situations just like this many times before. In particular, I’m thinking of the Eleh Ezkerah (These I Remember…) section of the Yom Kippur liturgy. Inserted after the persecutions in Hadrianic times and elaborated on since with every pogrom and massacre- this section gives us words for how to talk about martyrdom.
Yet for many, including SAMS this past year, it seems so far from our contemporary experience as to be hard to understand, and is often skipped. This next year, we may want to reconsider that. Perhaps it is exactly the language of martyrdom, of Jews struck down in the midst of prayer, of holy and sacred souls sacrificed to the hatred of others- that we need most.
Yet some things are also different- after all, it’s 2018 now. For me, the Pittsburgh Pogrom seems to be primarily expressed in different words, namely hashtags such as: #NeverIsNow (an inversion of the phrase ‘Never Again’) or #PittsburghStrong or #JewishLivesMatter. Maybe these are the words that capture our experience of martyrdom. Maybe not.
I don’t know that I have the words, or that our tradition does, or that Twitter does- but I know that the search for a way to honour the lives of those killed for nothing other than being Jewish requires more than words- it requires actions as well. For now though, we need to grieve, to listen, to pray, and to support one another- with words or silence, liturgy or tweets, in whatever way helps.
May their memories be a blessing: