Recently, synagogue sanctuaries around the community and across the country were full as a response to the horrible tragedy that occurred in Pittsburgh. It was the right response to the shooting that injured us all. It was an appropriate reaction to the murders of our brothers and sisters, to the shattering of Tree of Life’s sacred space … and for many of us, to the violation of our sense of security.
To my knowledge, in the history of America, only two synagogues have suffered the experience of gun violence in their sanctuaries. Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life was the second; in 1966, our beloved Congregation Shaarey Zedek of Southfield became the first when a young congregant murdered Rabbi Morris Adler on the bimah during a Shabbat morning bar mitzvah. Since then, the safety of our synagogue family has been, is and will continue to be our highest priority.
The Shabbat after the shooting, throughout the U.S., many children, too, attended services because of the murders. There, in synagogue, they heard and saw the presence of “increased security.” On Sunday, when those same children attended religious school and during the week, when those children attended day school, among the warm faces of the clergy or the educator or the teachers gathering to welcome their children were the faces of security teams.
Throughout the country, because of the act of terrorism in Pittsburgh and because of the rising culture of hatred and gun violence throughout the nation, our children are learning to come to “fortress-synagogues” to gain knowledge and skills for a religion that could, it might seem to those parents and children, cost them their lives.
Given our reaction to Pittsburgh, then, I cannot help but wonder: Will our anxiety and our fear deprive our children and grandchildren of the relationship to God, the rootedness in history and the intimacy of community that Judaism offers?
That is to say, by coming to the synagogue or temple only to mourn recent or historical tragedies, are we denying our children and grandchildren a Judaism that will comfort them, give them strength and sustain them through the midst of future crises, be those personal, communal or national?
In our own desperation to protect and in our lack of desire to observe, are we raising our children and grandchildren to fear their Judaism … and thus to run from it?
Our reaction to the events in Pittsburgh cannot only be adding security to protect ourselves and talking with our children about the threat of anti-Semitism. Our response to the murders and the fear must not be participating in one Solidarity Shabbat but skipping every Sabbath until Rosh Hashanah.
Instead, after a Shabbat of solidarity and in the face of rising anti-Semitism around the world and in America, too, we must show our children and grandchildren that the faith and the practice of Judaism continue to be a path toward meaning and purpose in this world — that the traditions, laws and ethics of our people grant us a most meaningful life of inspiration and transformation, of gratitude, obligation and joy.
We must bring our children to Shabbat services not only after major acts of anti-Semitism or in commemoration of them, but, instead, we should bring those children frequently, so that they can experience the joy, the celebration, the spirituality, the timelessness and the community that is Judaism.
We must practice our Judaism joyfully and knowledgably at home as well so that our kids experience as much of the Jewish “get to’s” as they do the Jewish “cannots.” For example, we “get to” turn off computers, TV and video games in order to have fun with family, friends and community. We “get to” eat delicious food, decorate our homes, sing and learn in celebration of Shabbat and holidays.
We must give them the depth and breadth of Jewish life so that when the next tragedy occurs — not if, but when — they have a religious and communal sanctuary to which they can turn.
During the Solidarity Shabbat at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, we proclaimed and then sang Am Yisrael Chai: The Jewish People live and endure. This Shabbat, and every Shabbat, let us show the anti-Semites … and, more importantly, our kids, that this is true.
This Shabbat, and every Shabbat, even more important than responding to anti-Semitism, let us show our children, our grandchildren and ourselves that Jewish living is joyful living, is meaningful living, is purposeful living.
I’ll see you at the synagogue.
Aaron Starr is a rabbi at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.