Friday, June 17, 2016
Shalom Shaarei Kodesh,
It was 2 am early Sunday morning. Our congregation was once again engaged in our full night of learning for the holiday of Shavuot. At 2 am, I was interviewing Ilene Prusher, one of our congregants and a renowned journalist who has served in war zones including Iraq and Afghanistan. Little did we know that an act of terror and hatred, the largest mass shooting in American history and the largest terror attack since 9/11/2001 on American soil, was beginning to unfold just three hours north of us in Orlando.
Shavuot at Shaarei Kodesh was truly special. Our children enjoyed delicious gelato and learned about the holiday of Shavuot and the importance of Torah through PJ Library books followed by a full night of learning and public interviews which included Torah from a teen leader, a millennial leader, a head of school, a journalist, rabbis, teachers, and congregants, to our sunrise service. People came in at all times during the night, some even coming at 4 am to learn! There is a famous teaching (Pirkei Avot 3:6) that when Jews study Torah, even one Jew, the divine presence, the Shechinah, dwells above them. I truly felt God's presence that evening. On Shavuot, we experience what our ancestors experienced at Sinai - an intimate encounter with God. That morning, after our sunrise minyan, I walked home to get some well-deserved sleep. Over Shabbat and holidays, I have my phone plugged in next to my bed, but I leave it untouched. Two hours after I laid my head down, I began feeling vibrations; news alerts from my phone. Reading the news accounts in the newspaper shortly after broke my heart. A terrorist attacked a the Pulse Night Club with the intent of killing as many LGBT people as he could with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and handguns. The killing last for three hours. 49 people were killed, and I could not help but think of the 49 days that led up to the holiday of Shavuot.
As spiritually high as I was just hours ago, I was brought down to earth. The second day of Shavuot in the Diaspora is a day that reveals another way that we experience God. On the second day of Shavuot, we recite Yizkor, invoking the memories of our loved ones lost, comforting each other as a community. On the second day of Shavuot, we read the book of Ruth, a megillah where God's imminent presence is only seen at the very end, and yet, God's name is invoked throughout the book. Ruth is one of my favorite books of the Bible. Ruth, Orpah, and Naomi are characters who suffer deeply. A midrash on Ruth claims that the Torah can be adequately grasped only by those who have suffered like Ruth. Their response to suffering, to the hiding of God's face, is to bring Hesed, kindness, to the world through action. The theology of Ruth is a different theology than the first day of Shavuot, a day where God directly interacts with us. The theology of Ruth, is God's kindness/hesed invoked and enacted by human beings. God acts through us as God's agents. I read a wonderful description of the people of Ruth, "God-centered people prompt God to show up."
Following the holiday, I opened my Facebook page and was overwhelmed with information, but also overwhelmed to see the response of people. So many people, thousands, rushed to give blood in Orlando that they had to turn people away. A Go Fund Me page set up by Equality Florida to help the victims' families started with a goal of $100,000 in three days, raised over 5 million. We united to stand up to hatred using hashtags and standing up for our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community.
Over the last days, three issues have come up as the underlying issues to this attack: the ease of access of military grade assault rifles in America, terrorism, and hatred and violence against the LGBT population. There are those who are claiming there can only be one issue, but I say, there are three issues that have led up to this attack on us all. Like the characters in the book of Ruth, God-centered people prompt God to show up. We prompt God to show up through our hesed, our kindness, but we also prompt God to show up through our actions to confront these issues.
I am providing a couple of links that might help those who are looking for a Jewish take on this tragedy.
Support the families of the victims through the Go Fund Me page from Equality Florida or the One Orlando Fund whose purpose is to provide a way to help respond to the needs of the Orlando community, now and in the time to come, after the effects of the Pulse tragedy.
Please visit the Rabbinical Assembly's page (click here) to read a statement on the tragedy, and three powerful prayers written by Conservative/Masorti rabbis, my colleagues, who serve in Orlando.
For those looking to learn more about addressing gun violence in our country, I urge you to visit Rabbi Menachem Creditor's blog. Rabbi Creditor is a dear friend and colleague, and the founder of Rabbis Against Gun Violence. Click here to read Rabbi Creditor's blog.
I will not be with you this Shabbat as we have a previously planned weekend away, but I will be with you in spirit.
As much as we were all at Sinai, this week, We Are Orlando. Let us never forget the 49 souls taken this week, and let us bring God to the world through our loving actions.
Rabbi David Baum