Tag Archives: Boston Marathon Explosions

Running is Jewish

The Eternal God is my strength: God makes my feet like the deer’s, and lets me stride upon the Heights. – Habakuk 3:19

This time last year, Boston Marathon runners were coming over the finish line, having pounded 26.2 miles into their legs. We all know how last year’s Boston Marathon was different from other marathons–in this city and elsewhere. This year’s Boston Marathon is different from prior ones. And still, we celebrate today all those who cross that finish line.

Coming up on this first anniversary of last year’s tragedy, coinciding with the 127th running of the Boston Marathon, we now know as a broad Boston community that we are strong and resilient, and that we are better together. These lessons do not need to have come out of the bombings, because they are what a runner learns when he or she goes out to complete a marathon. The exhaustive emotionality of a marathon is something anyone who has finished that distance knows in their bodies and in their hearts. I’ve personally been feeling an echo of that exhaustion over the last few weeks as various news outlets have been running remembrances as we approach this first anniversary.Rabbi Hirsch completing the 2007 NYC 1/2 Marathon

This year’s Marathon also coincides with the conclusion of Passover, our festival of liberation. With those two things coming together (and because I had to figure out an elaborate path to get to shul for services. Darn road closures), I’ve been wondering about what our tradition has to say about running and fitness.

Looking through the available texts on this, two stand out.

The first is a talmudic conversation between Rav Huna and Abaye. It was reported that Rav Huna noted that “One who leaves the synagogue should not take large strides because it creates the impression that he is eager to leave” (BT B’rakhot 6b). Don’t run from the synagogue, lest someone think you’re running from God. But what about running to the synagogue? “It is a mitzvah to run and one is permitted to rush and take large strides,” says Abaye, for “one who eagerly enters a synagogue displays his enthusiasm to follow the path of God” (ibid).

When we run from something, it is looks like fear. When we run toward something, it displays enthusiasm and spiritual adroitness. Running toward goals, objectives, destinations, toward that finish line at 26.2, can be a spiritual practice if it enriches of our lives, enriches our relationships with one another, and enriches our connection to the Divine.

Maimonides expressed this notion in his Shemonah Perakim, “Man needs to subordinate his soul’s powers to one goal, namely, spiritual perfection. He should direct all of his actions, both when at motion and when at rest, and all of his conversation toward this goal so that none of his actions are in any way frivolous… The purpose of his body’s health is that the soul finds its instruments healthy and sound in order that it can be directed toward spiritual growth.” All that sweat we let out at the gym, all of the training miles we put into our legs, all the nutritional awareness, the scheduling to make it to that-special-yoga-class, and the like–those things are not for washboard abs and a strong body alone. We take care of our bodies (read: fitness is critical) because it is a pathway to spiritual perfection.

We are better people in the here and now when we put fitness and health as one of the top things on our personal priority list.

I have, at times, found this hard to keep in my heart. So I keep a reminder on my desk. There, sitting in a simple frame is an old advertisement from a running shoe company. The tag line is “We know that 26.2 is the short part.” Around that are a series of photos, each documenting different steps runners take to train and prepare for marathons. Those are the tough moments in marathons, not race day, itself.

For twenty-ish weeks, runners have been preparing for today. For the past year, our city has been preparing for this first anniversary. And as we celebrate the close of our festival of liberation, let’s recognize just how critical it is that we continue to care for our own health and fitness.

It’s good for the spirit.

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Shabbat Satisfied

On Friday morning, I shared on this blog a story I had recently heard from my friend and community leader, Lisa Berman. At the end of that post I prayed–given all that had been going in the week–that Shabbat would come speedily.

This was before we had to cancel services for our community, as we all stayed in lock down for the remainder of the evening. When we made the decision to cancel services, I was frustrated. Not only was I saddened that I would not get to be with my community when I needed to be with others, but I was angry that I was being robbed of Shabbat.

But Shabbat did come, and my anger abated. After all, we were able to gather as a community Saturday morning and to have services and Torah study together. I was so glad to get to be with people I hold dear, so glad to have Shabbat morning services together, and so glad to get to celebrate a special young woman as she became bat mitzvah.

Following our morning services, I turned to Rabbi Gurvis and said, “Okay. It’s time for my run.”

“Have fun,” he responded.

I changed into my running clothes, stretched out, and then headed out from Temple Shalom onto Commonwealth Avenue. This was my first run since the explosions at the finish line, and while I was on it, I encountered Shabbat.

I headed inbound on Comm Ave. up the first of three hills in Newton that everyone always identifies as the root of heartache along the marathon route. It was beautiful out. Calm. A little windy, but it was refreshing. It was how Shabbat is supposed to be.

My turn came at the corner of Comm Ave. and Walnut St. Those of us who have driven past that corner are familiar with the Johnny Kelley statue. Two men are running, crossing an invisible finish line, holding hands as they cross it together. Both are wearing this year’s marathon medals.

This is actually the same man at two ages in his life. Johnny Kelley ran the marathon until he was into his 80’s. All around the statue people have placed flowers and mementos of goodwill in the face of the destruction that took place at the Marathon’s finish line. Next year, two marathon finishers will gift their medals to the statue to stay there until the next. As I took all of this in, I let out a deep breath, and I headed back the way I came.

A new prayer for this Sunday: May we travel from strength to strength, and may we continue to repair this world. Because we deserve that repair.

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Finding Comfort in an Uncomfortable Time

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.

Mayor Tom Menino

Mayor Tom Menino

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.

Governor Deval Patrick

Governor Deval Patrick

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.

President Barack Obama at Heal Our City Interfaith Service

President Barack Obama
at Heal Our City Interfaith Service

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!

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Please Let Shabbat Come

With events and news currently breaking I want to share a story that I have been thinking about since Monday’s explosions. A few weeks ago, before we would have been able to connect the words marathon and bombings, Lisa Berman–Temple Shalom congregant and Director of Education at Mayyim Hayyim–relayed to me a story about Pope John Paul II. It has lingered with me in full force. 

Pope John Paul II traveled constantly. In every trip he made, he met with Catholics and others all around the world. He would sit with those individuals, and he would often pray with them. As they prayed together, he would take on their prayers, their confessions, and their stories. The Pope weaved a cloak out of these experiences that he would wear and take with him from location to location. The more visits he made, the more prayers he took on, and the cloak would become heavier.

When the Pope would arrive back at the Vatican, no matter the hour of the day, no matter the day of the week, the first place he would go was St. Peter’s Basilica. He would make his way across the grand floor, straight to dais. Yet, he did not stay there. He made his way into the tombs underneath the Basilica, kneeling at St. Peter’s grave. There–alone–he would take that prayer-filled cloak, and lay it down at St. Peter’s feet.  All of those prayers, all of those confessions, all of those stories from the people he had met all around the world were left in Catholic safe, sacred territory. 

Every time the Pope traveled, he was witness to the brokenness and woundedness of our world. As he met with others, those breaks and wounds became his own. Yet he knew he could not let those weigh him down permanently. He had to take them somewhere, to leave them somewhere, to do something with that hurt. For Pope John Paul II, he transferred that weightiness through his own prayers at the feet of the man who was the first to hold his post.

Given the events of this week, we too need a place to take our prayers, our hurt, our brokenness, and our woundedness. If it were near the High Holidays, I would say that we Jews have Tashlich as an opportunity to cast off those worries. Yet, we need immediate help, and so I give thanks that Shabbat is coming. Events continue to break, and we do not know when it will be safe to go about our day. Should it be safe for us to congregate tonight, I cannot wait for us to be together, to share in prayer, and to lessen our burdens. Please, let beautiful Shabbat arrive. 

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