Thursday, June 16, 2016

After Orlando

Dear TBE Family,

The festival of Shavuot, which has just concluded this evening, has given me an opportunity to try to absorb the utter senselessness of the mass carnage in Orlando before communicating with you, since we do not routinely send temple emails out on a major holiday (though one that was prepared by our office last week did inadvertently go out yesterday, for which I apologize).
Shavuot provides context for our current sadness.  The book of Exodus speaks of a three day vigil at Mount Sinai, where the Israelites purified themselves to receive the Divine message.  And now, that vigil complete, we are witness to a multiplicity of sad vigils, for the dead (49 precious souls), the injured (53, at last count) and the wounded (all of us - and in particular the LGBT community).  These too are vigils of purification, as we strain to find safety and calm amidst the storm of violence, suspicion and hate that threatens to engulf us.  We need to make ourselves worthy of receiving the Torah, again and again, by finding a way to rid ourselves of the impulse to blame, to despair, to fear, to separate from others, and to respond to hate with more hate, and violence with more violence.

This morning at services, we read the book of Ruth.  That book offers a guide to how we need to respond to tragedy and devastating loss.  Naomi's two sons die, which in that patriarchal world meant that her entire future was wiped out - no grandchildren, no tribal legacy, no one to care for her in her old age.  She's so embittered that she even changes her name to "Bitter."  But her daughter in law Ruth, a Moabite, refuses to leave her, renders herself a refugee and insists on following Naomi back to Naomi's home in Bethlehem. 

In its pre-Shavuot episode, the biting Israeli satire "The Jews are Coming," ran a skit where, following Ruth's supreme gesture to Naomi, Israeli immigration officials jump out of the bushes and demand to see her papers.  But all joking aside (why is no one laughing?), the message of this book is that the only way to confront tragedy is though steadfast kindness, by standing shoulder to shoulder with those who are bereft, by restoring hope to the hopeless.
The rabbis had it right in assigning the book of Ruth to this holiday.  In order to be worthy of the Torah, we need to first purify our souls of hate, which happens during the three-day vigil, and then fill that empty space with kindness.  No wonder that at the end of the book (spoiler alert) Ruth becomes the great grandmother of King David, and hence the matriarch of the line that some day, one may hope, will bring messianic redemption.  That redemption, when it comes, will have been spawned by the kindness of Ruth, and Naomi's love for the foreigner in her midst.

This is a time for healing, solidarity and love.  Our job as a religious community is to promote that.  Perhaps more than any other activity, communal prayer promotes healing - and this week, in the face of this most heinous act, we need that healing more than we've needed it in some time.

We are fortunate that the calendar will allow us to do just that this Friday night, as we welcome the LGBT community to TBE for our Pride Shabbat.  Our guest speaker will beIdit Klein, Executive Director of Keshet, the foremost national organization working for LGBTQ rights in the Jewish community.   The cantor and I will also be joined by three truly extraordinarily talented young guest musicians, Gon HaleviYomit Spiegelman and  Ella Joy Meir.

Please invite your LGBT friends - and everyone else - to join us for an evening of uplifting music and healing words.  As we shift away from this festival of Shavuot, this year falling on the auspicious secular date of 6/13, we take with us the spirit of the Covenant of Sinai, a Covenant of Love.  No one should be alone this Shabbat. And no one should feel alone, ever.
In Peace,

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
P.S.  Also note that an interfaith vigil will take place this Thursday at 7 PM at Norwalk City Hall.

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