Shabbat Reflections After A Terrible Week

Abruzzo Mountains, Italy — Dear Beloved Community:

Up in the mountains, I had the naive fantasy that we were protected from the dangers of the world. That ideal was shattered early Sunday morning when Omar Mateen murdered 49 people dancing at Pulse Club in Orlando, and shot and wounded at least 53 more before he was killed himself. Almost a year after we rejoiced at marriage equality throughout the land, 49 LGBTQ people and allies — most of whom are Latino and LatinX people of color — pierced the dream that we were truly free.

Some thoughts & reflections as we head into Shabbat:

There are moments that wreck our hearts, that make us understand God’s thinking when the great flood occurred and wiped out humanity to start over again. As Lamentations cries, “I weep, I gnash my teeth, I fall to the floor in a heap of woe.”

And yet, I am as full of righteous indignation as I have ever been!

Our national fetish with weapons of war and our constructing the second amendment into an idol that is worshipped is BLASPHEMY! If you need an AR-15 to hunt a deer, you suck at hunting. Try a different sport. Bowling is fun and there are far fewer deaths from bowling pins than guns.

I was encouraged by the Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who engaged in a nearly 15-hour filibuster to demand the senate vote on two reasonable gun safety measures: One, to prevent people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing guns and the other to close loop holes at gun shows are purchased. Please–contact your senators and your members of congress to tell them to support these measures. We may not be able to heal this toxic gun infection in our nation with these two measures alone, but we must try every remedy possible!

Pulse is a GLBTQ Club. This was an attack on our community. Do not allow this truth to be erased! Remember: loving each other in public is a radical act. The 49 beautiful souls who were murdered at Pulse were not martyrs; they were simply people out having a good time. At a gay club. In a place they believed was a sanctuary. Say their names. Remember their stories. For those who need to do something immediate, tell any GLBTQ person or person of color or Muslim during Ramadan that they are beautiful, unique, and worthy of life and love.

There is a great debate about whether or not to name the gunman. I understand the logic of not doing so: To refrain from giving him notoriety and inspiring copy cat violence. I appreciate that. But I must respectfully disagree. Omar Mateen was born in America in 1986. He was not a monster who fell out of the sky; he was a human being who inflicted one of the worst shooting attacks on American soil, second only to Wounded Knee. By not saying his name, we lose sight of the fact that a person shed the blood of many others; if we deny his humanity, we deny our own. And that is a grave spiritual mistake. Humanity is a messy business and it ain’t for the faint of heart. In Judaism, we have a unique way of addressing the most vile among us-we state the name and then follow it with “y’mach sh’mo” — may their memory be erased. Omar Mateen, y’mach sh’mo — may his name be erased.

Yes, Omar Mateen was Muslim. No, we must not indict all Muslims for this shooting any more than we should indict Christians for Dylan Roof murdering nine people at Mother Emanu-El Baptist Church last June. Just because it is convenient to blame an entire group of people for the atrocities of one doesn’t make it right. As Jews, we know better.

There have been 998 mass shootings since Sandy Hook in December 2012. TWO of them were committed by Muslims. ALL of them were committed by men. We have a very seriously problem with men and guns that we need to address if we want to reduce gun violence. Men with guns aren’t “a” problem; men with guns are “the” problem.

I have felt the agony of Orlando, despite being protected by the mountains. It would be all too easy to fall into despair, to throw up our hands in defeat. Simply put, there is no word for despair in the Jewish lexicon! We must mobilize, organize, and defeat the NRA at the ballot box. We have far more power when we join together. We are not alone. Good, decent people are sick to death of this violence; when we join together, we have the power to stop it. The road may be long but we’ve faced imposing mountains to climb before. The terrain is rough, the winds of opposition who seek to knock us down are fierce and still-we rise and rise and rise.

Finally, a story from the Book of Ezra that offers powerful spiritual guidance:

“When the builders laid the foundation of the Temple, the Priests were stationed to Praise God with trumpets and the Levites with cymbals. King David directed them and they sang, praising and giving thanks to the Divine.

“God’s love endures forever,” they sang with joy. And the people responded with a great shout when they Praised God because the Temple’s foundation was laid.

But many of the Priests and Levites and heads of families and the elders of the community who saw the first Temple on its foundations wept with a loud voice when they saw this Temple–they couldn’t forget the pain of its destruction, the loss, the agony, the utter despair. Many, too, shouted for joy and this rebirth, so the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people weeping.”

These days we shout with rage and pain and grief and righteous indignation. On Shabbat, we will sing once again with joy and lift our voice to Praise the Eternal. Today, anger and grief are louder–and they must be to motivate us to rebuild a foundation of community that is tender, fierce, loving, and peaceful. But we must not forget to sing with joy, to call ourselves to a higher purpose, to remind ourselves of what is decent and good and loving in the world.

One day very soon, I pray, we will all sit beneath our vines and fig trees, and none shall be afraid. This week, on this Shabbat, may we find the strength and courage to turn our mourning into dancing and transform the world as it is to the world as it should be: overwhelmed with love.

All My Love & prayers for Shabbat Shalom,