To say the least, it has been a sad and surreal week here in the Boston area.
As we gathered in the office of Newton Mayor Setti Warren prior to Wednesday evening’s Newton Community Vigil the mayor asked how the assembled clergy how folks in our congregations were reacting. Several of the clergy gathered responded with different responses. I remember commenting that my feeling was that “people are in shock.”
Standing on the steps outside Newton City Hall a short while later, as our community gathered for its vigil, there was a noticeable measure of comfort in being with friends, neighbors, and yes even folks we don’t know. Simply being together as a community brought comfort in a very trying time.
For me, that feeling was underscored and intensified as I sat in the congregation at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross yesterday for the Healing Our City Interfaith Service. I had not planned on attending the event. Guided by advice from leaders in our Jewish community, I planned on watching it, like most of you, on television. Then I awoke yesterday morning to messages from two Christian colleagues informing me that they had included me on a list of folks to attend the service. I was deeply touched, and hurriedly dressed and headed for the Cathedral. I’m glad I did.
Sitting in that community, and especially in a part of the assembled in which I sat surrounded by Christian, Muslim and Jewish colleagues, I found myself reminded even more potently of the power of community. I know that power in my bones. It’s a feeling I often experience in our Temple Shalom community. However, it’s not often that I have the opportunity to sit in the community, in the congregation, and simply feel that power.
Hearing the words of my clergy colleagues, several of whom are friends; hearing Mayor Tom Menino (and watching him heroically project a strength that his body clearly belies); hearing our Governor and our President – all amounted to a powerful experience that brought a sense of comfort that has been elusive for so many of us this week.
As Jews, we live out our rituals and customs in our families and in the larger context of our communities. Judaism has never been about solitary activity. I often speak and write about community. Indeed, Judaism is most powerful when we experience it in community. Whether it’s study, prayer, tikkun olam, celebration, and yes, gathering to find solace and comfort, we are hopelessly (or should I say hopefully) communal. Indeed, I often speak of our “Temple Shalom family.” For me, they are not mere words. They are an expression of a feeling that was instilled in me as a child growing up in my home congregation. It is a reality I have tried to recreate in each of the communities in which I have served over the course of my thirty years in the rabbinate. When I teach children in our Temple Shalom family, I am teaching my children. When I celebrate – a new child, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a wedding or whatever, I am with family. When we suffer a loss, we share that loss. This week we have felt that sense of shared loss, uncertainty and shakiness together.
Sitting in the congregation at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross I felt part of a larger family – the Boston clergy family, and the family of Greater Boston. And indeed, we have all felt part of something larger as friends and other communities have reached out to surround us with their love and concern since Monday’s tragic events.
As I write these words, like many, I am watching the news reports as this very surreal day unfolds with the manhunt that has frozen our greater Boston area in place. Let us pray that in the coming hours this crisis will come a conclusion without any further loss of innocent life. Even as it hopefully will end quickly and definitively, the days ahead will still be ones of uncertainty as we take our first shaky steps back to normalcy – or perhaps I should say, to whatever our “new normal” will look like. As we do, let us remember to reach out to those around us – that the steps we take will be easier if taken together.
It is my hope and prayer that we will be able to gather for Shabbat worship this evening, to remember those who have died and pray for those in need of healing. It is my hope that we will be able to lift our voices together in prayer and song – and to stand together as an affirmation of our commitment to embracing life, and all that is holy as together we walk towards wholeness and healing.
Let me end by echoing the words of my friend and dear colleague, Rabbi Neil Hirsch, “Please let Shabbat come.” And let it bring a sense of Shalom!
Stay safe everyone – I hope we can gather tonight!