(remarks from Pittsburgh Memorial Gathering)
I’m so thankful to be a part of this GW community today. I’m so thankful to be a Jew.
I sat at my computer screen last night and stared blankly at the white space before me. What does one say at a moment like this one? I don’t know what to say to my children, too young to fully understand what’s going on and yet inheriting this world we are shaping for them. I don’t know what to say to my youngest brother, a reporter in Pittsburgh who held in tears all day yesterday as he tried to tell the stories of others. And I will be honest – I stared at the screen and I didn’t know what to say to you.
But in the few short moments I sat there, I kept getting interrupted. I was interrupted by my colleague, Meraj, who supports the Muslim students here on-campus; he shared, ‘This Must Stop.” I was interrupted by my colleague Maryam who had joined us at what I believe was her first Shabbat dinner, on Friday night; we couldn’t fathom the contrast of our beautiful Friday evening with the next morning. I was interrupted by Jordan in the Diversity and Inclusion office checking in to send love, by my old neighbor Nadine who moved to Boston and had been thinking of me all day, by my community rabbi and our own Rabbi Dan Epstein, who were busy organizing a bus to Pittsburgh tomorrow.
These interruptions of our lives are missed if we aren’t paying close enough attention. All around us, people are good. People are reaching out, people are showing empathy. I don’t know the right words today, but I do know this.
When I was an undergraduate like most of you, I was on a Jewish journey of my own. For my senior thesis, I studied the Jewish community at NYU and I came across a model from sociologist Robert Wuthnow of dwellers and seekers, a model I’m guessing likely applies to all faith communities and not just my own. Dwellers go to synagogue because their parents went and their grandparents went and that’s what you do – you go to synagogue. Seekers are on journeys – they are thirsty for a connection with G/d, they want the magic and the meaning of religious and spiritual life.
Seekers may often get the glory and glamour, but dwellers keep the Jewish wheels turning. They plow the fields, they keep our Etz Chaim, our Tree of Life, alive and well. Dwellers show up to synagogue on time.
When I looked at the list of loss yesterday, at these holy Jews who are no longer with us on this Earth, I thought to myself – I know these people. I may have never met them, but I know them – and I know you know them, too. They are the people who make up the fabric of your childhoods, who offered you lollipops at synagogue, who know your parents and doted on you even if you barely knew their names. They are in the corner of your eye when you engaged in Jewish life, they were sitting at your Bar or Bat Mitzvah service even if they weren’t at the party. They dwell so others can seek, entering into a Jewish contract that we are all a part of, whether you know it or not.
Can we think of a way to dwell in the months to come, to honor them? Can we seek out a tradition, a value of Jewish life – to light candles, to ask questions, to raise our voice in pursuit of justice, to mark a holiday we may not have marked before? Can we double down as proud Jews since they are no longer able to?
Today, we dwell together. Tomorrow, may we continue to dwell, too.