By David Markovich
For many Jews around the world, Saturday – Shabbat – is a time of reflection and relaxation. Saturday is a moment to take a step back from the hustle and bustle of the work week, inhale deeply, and recollect. This might mean spending time with loved ones, going on a hike to get in tune with nature, or for some, attending Shabbat services.
As I began to make plans for how I would spend my Saturday, I received news that there was an active shooter at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. We later learned that a gunman had opened fire at the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill, causing eleven fatalities and injuring even more. As a Jew, learning about these kinds of tragic events is frightening. As someone who works in a synagogue, the level of anxiety certainly deepens. Going to your local congregation to partake in services shouldn’t have to feel like a scary proposition. This weekend’s events have placed Jewish communities around the country on high alert. The effects of the gunman’s actions have reverberated from Pittsburgh, and the harm and fear he has created can be felt in synagogues around the world.
We mourn for the eleven individuals who lost their lives to the heinous act committed on Saturday. I spoke with a friend from Pittsburgh who knew Richard Gottfried, a dentist who she shadowed for a week in high school. “He was the kindest man,” she expressed. Vigils and ceremonies continue to take place across the country in honor of those who lost their lives. On Sunday evening, I came across a striking vigil in front of the White House. There, I saw a sign on the ground which read, “WE WILL OUTLIVE THEM.” The sign reminded me of a quote by Mark Twain:
“The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed; and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
Twain marvels at the Jewish people’s uncanny ability to survive. For as many close encounters with death as we have had, we have excelled in our ability to push forward through dark times. Soon, the vigils and ceremonies will pass, and the events in Squirrel Hill will join the other calamities we have encountered as a people. How can we create a longer-lasting impact to honor those who have passed? Everyone may answer this question differently, but there is one universal message behind each answer: Don’t Stop.
Don’t allow the actions of a limited few deter us from continuing to participate in our synagogues. Let’s continue to be vigilant and proactive about our safety. Let’s not be naïve about the unfortunate reality that the world can sometimes be a dangerous place. But in doing so, let’s also not lose sight of the character traits that make us who we are. There shall be “no weakening of [our] parts,” “no slowing of [our] energies,” and most certainly, “no dulling of [our] alert and aggressive mind[s].”
On November 2nd, NVHC will be hosting a special Friday evening Shabbat in memory of the lives lost this weekend. We ask that you join us for a service of reflection and unity. But we must also think about beyond Friday night, when it becomes our personal initiative to ensure hate doesn’t prevail. Some may become involved with a social action cause. For others, it may just mean continuing to frequent Shabbat services. Whatever it is that you choose, just remember: Don’t Stop.