Tree of Life

Dear Friends,

We are terribly saddened at the murderous attack in Pittsburgh over Shabbat, at the Tree of Life synagogue. Our hearts go out to those most personally connected to this tragedy. In a confounding moment in the history of the world, where visionary moral leadership is scarce to be found, we are struggling to understand what this moment means, and how it calls to us. In sorrow and bewilderment, I turn to the steadfast course of Mr. Rogers, once a resident of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, who gave context to the turbulent times of his day by speaking to children with depth and honesty. This is how we can speak to our children.

The first response to tragedy, is the silent heart of grief, it must precede the what-it-means question. Words will struggle to hold all of the fear and anger and sadness that arise from witnessing violence. But silence and listening are a great container. Everyone should stay in that place as long as they need to.

Next, is to take a posture of prayer. The hour of souls making the journey from the bodies that contained them, back to their source, is a time for prayer. And that is true even when we die naturally. But when death comes by violence, all the more so, we must assume a posture of prayer. What does that mean? We allow our beings to vibrate with the intention for wholeness and the repair of the world. We are yearning for repair in all of the ways that it will be made, by healing souls, minds, and hearts that are suffering, and by creating a world whose hidden structures are just, and respectful of the dignity owed to every living thing. By assuming a posture of prayer, we honor the souls traversing worlds, we respond fully to a call we never hope to hear, and we recommit to the work of healing.

We begin to speak about the nature of hate and fear. Human beings are fantastic, complex, fragile creatures, and we are made by twos -- for every beautiful quality we are capable of, we are capable of its opposite in equal measure. Hate is a fallacy of the mind, that all of us know in some measure. But when hate is nurtured by lack of love and community, and by leadership that promotes division, it can reach horrific ends. The hatred of Jewish people is called anti-semitism, and it is not different in any way from hatred inflicted upon any group, on account of race, religion, or any other created means for distinguishing human beings from one another.

The Jewish people has a long history of facing hatred. But we are living at a moment in which hatred and violence are no longer the norm. The Jewish community in America has benefited greatly from integrating with the white majority that keeps a firm hold on power and privilege. Caught between the privilege we now occupy and our history of oppression, we are particularly suited to be a mighty force for racial, economic and other forms of systemic justice. The kind actions of the Islamic community are testament to the bridge work we are capable of, now and always. We need to be more cognizant of our unique situation, and work more diligently to fight hatred in all forms.

How do we heal the fear passed down to us through generational trauma? The good work of the Jewish people, in America and in Israel, necessitates an astute appreciation for this question. In the kabbalistic map of consciousness and cosmos, fear is one of the ten centers of being. Studying last week, I came upon a teaching from Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, who reminds us that fear is simply another guise, a costumed version if you will, of love. Fear is love in disguise. Some forms of fear then are totally appropriate -- as long as we are building the world we envision from a place of love, then all will be well. But when we forget that fear is love, and we let a force of narrowness and segregation act as compass to our work, we will create a world only as wide as our intention.

And so we’ll teach the children of this community that love knows no bounds -- it does not have eyes to see the color of skin, nor ears to hear the language in which you pray. The force of loved is moved by human beings in their simplicity, by acts of care and kindness that transcend the differences that others use to divide the world, and substantiate their power. We’re teaching them to give fully and freely -- to ask the names of all the strangers in their midst. They will be a mighty stream, fearless in love, swimming in Jewish wisdom, working for justice for all.

With love,

Rabbi Zach Fredman

We hold in our hearts as well, the families of Maurice Stallard and Vickie Jones, two African Americans killed this week by another racist white man full of hate, who was also ready to enter a house of worship and kill. In circles of compassion, we are extending our love to contain every human being on earth.

Please join me on Thursday evening in Washington Square Park for an event hosted by the New Sanctuary Coalition. I’ll be at the fountain at 5pm. We’ll also hold Shabbat services this Friday evening, at 630pm at First Presbyterian Church (12 w 12th st.)

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