Last night, my husband Mac and I attended the memorial service at our synagogue for the 11 Jewish people who were murdered last Saturday morning at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. I was overwhelmed with the number of people who showed up to offer their condolences and support. There were well over 100 people in attendance; people of all faiths, wanting to pray for the ones we lost and to pray for the safety of the Jewish people at large.
Some of us had the opportunity to light candles for the people who were murdered. I had the honour of lighting a candle in memory of a man named Jerry Rabinowitz. This man was one of the loyal congregants at Tree of Life. I knew nothing about this man, other than he was a victim of this horrible shooting. But when I lit the flame and called out his name, something shook me to the core of my being. As I cried out ”Rest in peace, my brother” I felt something happen to me that I can’t easily explain. My body started to shake, and I burst into tears uncontrollably. It was as though I could feel what he went through those last minutes of his life as he was gunned down. The fear, the helplessness, the pain that he suffered as he laid on the floor in the sanctuary taking his last breath.
I became so frightened that we might suffer a similar fate, as we sat in our familiar seats at Beth Israel Synagogue in Peterborough, On., as no city or town is immune to this kind of attack. No sense to fool ourselves. Every time I heard the door open to the sanctuary, I looked back, my heart raced, and I just froze.
Sitting in the sanctuary where all my seven kids were bar/bat mitzvahed, I realized something powerful. We might think we are all separate from one another, but nothing could be further from the truth. We think reform Jews are separate from the ultra-orthodox. We think Israeli Jews are separate from the Canadian ones. We think there is a distinction between Sephardic Jews and the Ashkenazim. Dear friends, how wrong we are. In the eyes of a virulent anti-Semite, we all look the same. We all have the same face. The same gaze. The same moral conscience.
What happened last week never ever should have happened. Good innocent people following the laws of praying in their synagogue; a place which Jews consider our home, our safe haven, our place of refuge, were brutally killed. I guess we are not safe anywhere in today’s world. This is a reality we all must face today.
As the memorial service concluded, I thought to myself: What might have been the last words from the mouths of the 11 innocent Jews who were solemnly engaged in their ritual morning prayer? I thought to myself about the meaning of these words: Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad –Hear o Israel, the Lord is our G-d; the Lord is one.
Nothing can bring back our dearly departed brothers and sisters. And nothing can adequately console the ravaged hearts of their families. But at the very least, we can remind ourselves that we are not fragments of a broken Jewish world. We are all together. And we are all one.
As we speak, I am writing a card to the family of Jerry Rabinowitz, to offer my most heartfelt condolences and to let the immediate family know that I lit a candle for this wonderful man. And that his name and his memory, along with the ten others, will be known in our Peterborough synagogue forever.
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