Memorial Service: Tree of Life
All of us here this evening know the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments. If not from the bible, than from the Charlton Heston movie of the same name.
Moses sees the children of Israel acting out, and he shatters the luchot habrit, the 10 commandments. After which, Moses is called back up to the Mount Sinai and gets a second set.
This much you may know.
However, what you may not know or have thought about before, is what happened to that first set of tablets once they were shattered by Moses.
Admittedly, it’s not a question we think about all that much. What happened to the broken tablets? Rabbi, Who cares? They might have been buried. Or perhaps Moses dropped them and they were shattered into a million irrecoverable, irretrievable pieces.
However, my friends that’s not what happened to the original set of Ten Commandments. Rather, what the Talmud teaches us in Masechet Bava Batra, is that luchot ve’shivrey luchot munachim be’aron: Broken and shattered were put into the ark together. The Israelites then carried both those tablets, the broken and the whole, as an homage to the past, while moving forward into the future.
For our Jewish community, and our extended friends and East Cobb community tonight, we find ourselves here because we are the luchot, the first set of tablets who feel like we have been shattered. To paraphrase the Book of Psalms, we once thought nothing could shake our security until it was indeed shaken by a tragedy that took place at Tree of Life Congregation, in which 11 people were killed, others wounded. The horrific act of shattering has made us, even 700 miles away from Pittsburgh, a city with steel nerves, feel unnerved ourselves. This shooting has brought our community together in a way we might never have expected. So much so I could never have imagined, that from a line on a rabbi’s email, a monday evening weeknight minyan would grow nearly thirty-fold in attendance.
What brings us together is not only an act of solidarity with our friends our fellow Americans, our fellow Jews in Pittsburgh, but because our sense of control has been shattered by a deluded maniac who ran into a synagogue and started shooting. By a man who walked into a place called Tree of Life, which is lest we forget, the name Etz Chaim translated into english, intent on killing Jews for being Jews.
And so the question stands: how do we tonight begin to take control back? How do we find healing and solace in a time when we feel powerless and full of grief?
First, I’d like to suggest, before we get to what to do with our broken tablets, is that we remember that while our tablets and our sense of security has been shattered, that we must take a step back and remember that our ark of America, our faith in humanity, remains quite intact. Sometimes, when our security is shaken, our gut tells us to react and assume the worst. That we the Jews are alone in the world. That no one supports us.
Only in this case, what our country has demonstrated in the past two days is that nothing could be farther from the truth. In America, as Jews we are blessed, to constantly receive the love and support of the overwhelming majority of people who do not share the beliefs of the perpetrator of this horrible crime. Tonight, we will take back control by affirming that the ark of American democracy endures. We will take back control thanks to the support of the brave men and women of the Cobb County police force who every day keep us safe. We will heal by recognizing that this was a lone wolf attack, and that the overwhelming majority of Americans see this reprehensible attack for what it was: brutal, unconscionable, and unacceptable.
Does this mean we do not mourn? Of course not. Does this mean we do not examine our own security protocols? Of course not. I don’t need to tell you we have the support and love of our partners and neighbors at St. Anns, Ridge Road Baptist, Sojourn, Lutheran Church of the Incarnation, the Islamic Center of North Fulton, and others who understand that this kind of hate has no place in our country.
We may be tempted at the breaking of the tablets, of our hearts, to see our ark itself as having been blown to pieces. But it hasn’t. America is still there. We are not alone in our grief. This Shabbat, we will partner with the AJC for an initiative called Show Up for Shabbat, where people of all faiths are invited to come to our synagogue, and express solidarity with the Jewish people. And that is what we must do. That is what America does, together.
But at the same time, I would like to suggest that, if we are to move forward toward a path toward healing together, that we must always carry those broken tablets with us in the ark as we work to build a new set, to create a new normal for the Jewish community. This has and must be a paradigm shifting moment for our country. For some of us it will be tempting to try and forget this ever happened. That’s what we as Americans have learned to do best in the “new normal” of shootings in public schools and houses of worship over the past decade.
But to ignore the problems of the world has never been the Jewish, nor an American thing to do. It is to acknowledge, to grieve, and to raise our voices against Anti-Semitism, hatred, and bigotry of all forms in our country. A lone shooter tried to silence us on Shabbat, but now, we will celebrate Shabbat: we will light candles, support our synagogues, even louder than we did before.
We will not, as Americans and Jews, build a new set of tablets and place them in the ark, while burying that which has been broken. We will carry those broken tablets with us and we will remember what has happened. We will use what is broken as a rallying cry to bring the change that our society needs now more than ever.
Which is why before we conclude with our service this evening, and break into groups and have a chance to process and share, we must together acknowledge the pain that has transpired. And I want to do that in a number of ways tonight.
First, I want to call on Etz Chaim’s Ruach Singers to sing a Mi Shebeyrach for the six injured brave officers and innocent victims still in the hospital. But also for us, for we, who are broken spirited, so that we may be made whole. Next, we will then invite members of our community to come and light yahrzeit candles. We will light them in memory of:
Joyce Fienburg, 75-years-old
Richard Gottfried, 65-years-old
Rose Mallinger, 97-years-old
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66-years-old
Cecil Rosenthal, 59-years-old
David Rosenthal, 54-years-old
Bernice Simon, 84-years-old
Sylvan Simon, 86-years-old
Daniel Stein, 71-years-old
Melvin Wax, 88-years-old
Irving Younger, 69-years-old
We will follow this by reciting an El Malei Rachamim memorial prayer on behalf of those whose lives were tragically taken from us. After which, we will recite the Mourner’s Kaddish. Not only for those observing yahrzeit, but on behalf of all of those who passed.
Tonight, we are left reeling. All of us carry with us the broken tablets in our hearts. But we pray: Adonai Oz LeAmo Yiten, May the God who comforts all bless us with renewal and strength, so that someday, we may carry a new, whole set, along with those currently feeling so broken.