TRAGEDY IN PITTSBURGH – 5779
Rabbi Susan Elkodsi
It’s hard enough to know what to say when one person dies, under any circumstances natural or otherwise. Words of comfort and support seem trite, and even more so as 11 precious individuals, created b’tzelem elo-him, in the Divine Image, have had their earthly lives ended prematurely.
To say that our thoughts and prayers are with the Tree of Life synagogue, the victims, their families and their community, is empty and hollow, but sometimes, it’s the best we have.
Our prayers and thoughts won’t bring back
• Joyce Fienberg
• Richard Gottfried
• Rose Mallinger
• Jerry Rabinowitz
• Cecil Rosenthal
• David Rosenthal
• Bernice Simon
• Sylvan Simon
• Daniel Stein
• Melvin Wax
• Irving Younger
Our thoughts and prayers alone won’t comfort the suddenly bereaved, heal the injured, or alleviate the suffering of those who were present and witnessed this terrible trauma. There is so much work to be done, but prayer can help those of us who are here today, at services nationwide, and in their homes and going about their business. Prayer helps US cope with tragedy. Thoughts and prayers can lead to positive action. Prayer CAN motivate US to work for changes in society, whether it’s intelligent and appropriate firearms legislation, greater access to mental health services, and helping each of us to appreciate and embrace others with whom we differ. Prayer and thoughts CAN help overcome hate and hateful behavior.
While today we are specifically mourning these individuals, we’re also aware that houses of worship and faith communities, schools, supermarkets, public spaces and individuals all over our country are targeted simply because of who they are and what they stand for in the eyes of those who perpetrate these heinous crimes.
Across the United States, Muslim and Jewish women have been coming together on a regular basis in small groups as part of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. When we get to know each other, we realize that we are more similar than we are different. If Jewish women and Muslim women can break bread together, if the various faith communities in our area can come together for a Thanksgiving service and to feed the hungry, then there is hope that by our example we can in some small way send loving energy out into the universe. Im Yirtzah Hashem, God willing, In Sh’Allah, we can do this.
It was a wise woman named Beruriah who advised her husband, Rabbi Meir, not to pray for the deaths of the wicked people who were making his life miserable. She reminded him of the words of Psalm 104, Yitamu chata-im min ha-aretz, u r’sha-im od aynam, “Let sins – not the SINNERS – be uprooted from the earth, and the wicked will be no more.” Rabbi Meir took her advice, he prayed that wickedness would be uprooted, and those people repented and changed their ways.
Hatred and bigotry serve no positive purpose in our world. In George Washington’s 1790 letter to the Jewish Community of Rhode Island, he wrote, “everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” Let each of us give no sanction to hate and bigotry.
May we pray that all Americans, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, sexual and gender orientation, regardless of their country of origin or resident status, be able to work together for the common good. That together we can establish a true bond of humanity where each person can truly see God’s face in the face of the person in front of them. May we live in a world free from terror and may this be the last time we need to come together to mourn a loss such as this.