What if?

I seek refuge in You, O LORD;
may I never be disappointed;
as You are righteous, rescue me.
Incline Your ear to me;
be quick to save me;
be a rock, a stronghold for me,
a citadel, for my deliverance.
For You are my rock and my fortress;
You lead me and guide me as befits Your name.
You free me from the net laid for me,
for You are my stronghold.
Into Your hand I entrust my spirit;
You redeem me, O LORD, faithful God. – Psalm 31:2-6 (Jewish Publication Society Tanakh)

Last night I attended a community gathering held by the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.  Held at one of the synagogues, it was a prayer service, statement of unity, and a witness that this type of violence is not normal.

As I walked to the synagogue, there was a significant police presence as well as an ambulance parked by the front door.  A sign of the times, but not a sign of what is right.  I don’t ponder whether I’ll be shot when I’m in public spaces.  But I did think about it last night.

The room was full – standing room only.

Blessed is the LORD,
for He has been wondrously faithful to me,
a veritable bastion.
Alarmed, I had thought,
“I am thrust out of Your sight”;
yet You listened to my plea for mercy
when I cried out to You.
So love the LORD, all you faithful;
the LORD guards the loyal,
and more than requites
him who acts arrogantly.
Be strong and of good courage,
all you who wait for the LORD. – Psalm 31:7-10 (JPS Tanakh)

Rabbi Joel Alter from Congregation Beth El Israel Ner Tamid opened with a welcome.  But it wasn’t really a welcome – because we shouldn’t have been there.  At least not for this reason.  He reminded us of the miraculous way that God created humanity.  And it didn’t include body armor.  Because being shot in the places we worship (or work or go to school or shop for groceries) is not how God created the world.

Once again, this is not normal.  We cannot allow it to be normalized.

My life is spent in sorrow,
my years in groaning;
my strength fails because of my iniquity,
my limbs waste away.
Because of all my foes
I am the particular butt of my neighbors,
a horror to my friends;
those who see me on the street avoid me.
I am put out of mind like the dead;
I am like an object given up for lost.
I hear the whisperings of many,
intriguecon every side,
as they scheme together against me,
plotting to take my life. – Psalm 31:11-14 (JPS Tanakh)

Rabbi Wes Kalmar of Anshe Sfard Kehillat Torah told the story of a rabbi who went to the doctor with his wife for her sore foot.  When the doctor asked what’s wrong, he said, “ Doctor, my wife’s foot is hurting us.” Pain to one is pain to both.  He stressed that it isn’t the Tree of Life synagogue or Pittsburgh that hurts – we hurt, because we are connected.

What would the world be like if we chose to hold are shared humanity higher than our individual experience? What would happen if empathy was our first response to the human condition?

What would happen if empathy was our first response to the human condition? Click To Tweet

But I trust in You, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God!”
My fate is in Your hand;
save me from the hand of my enemies and pursuers.
Show favor to Your servant;
as You are faithful, deliver me. – Psalm 31:15-17 (JPS Tanahk)

We closed the evening by singing the “Hatikvah” – an excerpt of a Jewish poem about the return to Israel, adopted as Israel’s national anthem in 2004 – and the “Star Spangled Banner”.  I don’t know the tradition of various synagogues and whether the singing of the “Hatikvah” is standard in prayer services.  Regardless, due to the religious/ethnic/secular combination of Judaism, its singing makes sense.

I was struck by including the “Star Spangled Banner”.  At least in my denomination, this is not a part of our worship services.  I wondered if it was included because our reason for gathering was in response to a hate crime founded in nationalism and religious intolerance.  Was it an attempt to remind us that we all share a common name of American citizen?

The evening was characterized as a “Community Gathering,” although for me it was still a prayer service. The inclusion of the national anthem struck me as out of place.  But then again, I’m a white, anglo-saxon, protestant.  I don’t need to prove my inclusion.

O LORD, let me not be disappointed when I call You;
let the wicked be disappointed;
let them be silenced in Sheol;
let lying lips be stilled
that speak haughtily against the righteous
with arrogance and contempt.
How abundant is the good
that You have in store for those who fear You,
that You do in the full view of men
for those who take refuge in You.
You grant them the protection of Your presence
bagainst scheming men;b
You shelter them in Your pavilion
from contentious tongues. – Psalm 31:18-21 (JPS Tanakh)

Both coming in and going out, people thanked me for being there.  Was everyone thanked?  Or was it because I was wearing a clerical collar?  Should it be that surprising that I would be there for this community gathering?  That I cared?

I mentioned to one man who thanked me that I had been at this synagogue for a bat mitzvah (we were standing near where I had sat).  He invited me to come for prayer this coming Shabbat.

As I walked out, there was a memorial to those who lost their lives in the Holocaust.  It included some sculpture as well as the name of each of the extermination camps.  Is there a Christian church in America that bears the witness of persecution and martyrdom in their buildings, much less as you walk out of worship?  Were people seeing it with new eyes as a reminder of how much hate there is in the world?

We cannot allow ourselves to forget.  Hate must not be normalized.

Blessed is the LORD,
for He has been wondrously faithful to me,
a veritable bastion.
Alarmed, I had thought,
“I am thrust out of Your sight”;
yet You listened to my plea for mercy
when I cried out to You.
So love the LORD, all you faithful;
the LORD guards the loyal,
and more than requites
him who acts arrogantly.
Be strong and of good courage,
all you who wait for the LORD. – Psalm 31:22-25 (JPS Tanakh)

None of this is new.  Sadly, I’ve written too often on violence:

#prayforparis

Where Does My Hope Come From?

When There Aren’t Any Answers

How Long? :: Psalm 6

Thoughts and Prayers

Restored to Hope

be still

Let Love Win

The Witness of the Church

And finally a prayer:  What Does the Lord Require?

After every shooting and act of violence, I wonder if this is the one that will be the catalyst for change.  What if this could the last one that we need to hold community gatherings and prayer vigils for?  What if we had the courage to stand up to hate? What if we said, “No!” to the false narrative that says this is normal?  What if we could learn to choose love?

 

Please, consider making a donation to your local synagogue or Jewish school for their increased security costs in the aftermath of the attack in Pittsburgh.

What if we had the courage to stand up to hate? What if we said, “No!” to the false narrative that says this is normal? What if we could learn to choose love? Click To Tweet

 

 

 

 

 

 

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