In this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, our matriarch, Sarah, dies. “…and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her.” I imagine that the entire community must have mourned for Sarah, yet that mourning would have been different in color and weight than Abraham’s and Isaac’s.
I have been thinking a lot about communal mourning in the wake of the Pittsburgh attack. When eleven Jews are shot in cold blood as they gather to worship on Shabbat, the worst anti-Semitic attack in US history, we all mourn. Those who lost loved ones mourn the deepest. Their loss is fresh, unfathomable, and personal. But we all mourn too. We mourn sympathetically for their loss and we mourn for the hatred and anti-Semitism that have increased so alarmingly in the last few years. I have been so sad to see the looks on the faces of my fellow Jews, so many appearing lost and broken as we grapple together with this tragedy.
After Sarah passed, Abraham’s first task was to procure a burial place for her. He honored her memory by staking a claim in the ground that was hers, and that was his in perpetuity. We too must stake a claim in the ground, a claim to our right to be Jewish in this country. The gunman went after this particular congregation, not just because they were Jews, but because they supported HIAS, fighting for the rights of immigrants. We must respond by putting our feet to the ground – we will not be moved. We will continue to fight for the rights of others because that is what we do as Jews. We will continue to show up at our synagogues to worship, to do mitzvot, and to perform acts of loving kindness. This is our claim in the ground. We will respond to this tragedy, by grieving and then by acting, by fighting against gun violence and against intimidation and fear. Our matriarch, Sarah, welcomed all into her tent. We will honor her legacy and that of all those who died in Pittsburgh by doing the same.
This Friday, please join us in a joint dairy pot luck and worship service with Congregation Sons of Israel at The Reform Temple of Rockland (6pm dinner, 7:30 service). We shall not die, but live, we shall not cower in fear, but show up to worship, sing, and support one another and to continue to make the world a better place.
Cantor Sally Neff