Thursday, March 22, 2012

Judaism in a Foxhole: Responding to the Horror of Terror Directed at Jewish Institutions

Horrified by the attack on the Jewish school in Toulouse, it is natural to wonder whether we are entering a period when Jews will be intimidated from gathering with other Jews.  With Iranian threats and well-publicized security alerts, people might be reluctant to come to synagogue.  Let me explain why we need to resist the temptation to detach.  Several days back, a congregant reminded me of sentiments I expressed a decade ago (written around the time of Sept. 11), words that seem equally appropriate now.    

Just when we thought we could begin to overcome all the negative reasons to be “proud and Jewish,” history has conspired to throw us back in a funk. Now, not only does everyone call us terrible things, but also we’re afraid to go to our synagogues to discover the more positive truth. The alerts have singled out Jewish places of worship as a possible terrorist target. So how can we find that comfort that we all seek, right here in our sanctuaries? 

To that I have but one response: Come here and find out. More than ever, we need you here. We need a Miracle Minyan, not to wallow in our misery, but to lift us from our woes. Yes, we need your presence here to show defiance in the face of terrorist threat, but not merely for that purpose. We need you here to celebrate (and this week we do have lots to celebrate), to partake in the wonder of simply being alive. We need you here to help us all transcend the week that that we have just gone through, and the trying weeks that are to sure come. We need you here – and you need to be here. 

So be here, this Friday night and Shabbat morning. Through the horrors we have experienced over the past few years, and in the forecast of an uncertain future, I invite you back to a place of comfort and respite: the synagogue. Come here and you’ll quickly discover that Judaism is at its best in a foxhole. Our prayers remind us, now more than ever, that all of life is precarious, and that any semblance of control is illusory. There simply is no excuse for boredom. Angry at God?  Fine. Despondent? Understandable. We’ll all be struggling to find meaning in the words we utter. But if you are bored, you’re on another planet. 

The uncertainties of the moment do test our faith, but the Jewish spirit has always soared highest when put to such a test. Hold a neighbor’s hand. Wipe a stranger’s tear. His son might be headed toward the front. Her nephew might live in harm’s way. Come to think of it, don’t we all? Imagine the poets of the prayer book, who endured similar traumas when composing their masterworks. Hear their pleas, amidst the fire, the hated massacres. Hear the bombs. Hear the cries. Here their psalms. And make their words our own. 

Then maybe, just perhaps, from the pit of the foxhole, you’ll hear yourself praying.

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