October 27, 2023
As we enter our third Shabbat since the terrorist attacks in Israel, I want us to hold on to joy, connection, community, and tradition. I want us to hold on to each other, and to hold each other up. I want us to keep living with open hearts, open minds, and open hands. I want us to insist, despite everything, that we will live. We will go on. We will embrace and even expand our Jewish identity. We will honor the memory of the murdered by living with hearts pulsing with light and compassion. We will live our freedom by choosing justice, compassion, kindness and love on behalf of all the babies, children, teenagers, young parents and elderly who are being held hostage in Gaza. As we traverse the “narrow bridge” (to paraphrase the words of Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav, popularized in the song Gesher Tzar Me’od) together, when one of us finds it too much to bear, I want the others of us, who have the strength, to hold up that person; they, in turn, will hold us up when our steps falter. Today, on the fifth anniversary of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, in which eleven Jews were killed by a white supremacist while gathered for a Shabbat morning service, holding on to one another for comfort and strength feels even more important.
It is a narrow bridge indeed, the bridge we walk right now. Our Jewish nation has been attacked, is under attack, and our Jewish people are under attack, in the streets of cities and on campuses worldwide, along with the digital forces of social media and biased press. How to describe this new reality? Here are some of the ways I’ve heard it described: “The walls caving in,” “The floor opening up beneath my feet,” “Like trying to live on two planets,” “The world turned upside down,” “The colors of the world look different”…Our minds grasp for language to contain, to somehow explain, to express the shock and sorrow, the grief and the fear, of this moment in Jewish history, for Israel and for Diaspora Jews. While our people are, literally or metaphorically, in the intense first weeks of mourning (while also praying and pleading for the release of the hostages) we are also having to defend ourselves against those who wish to tell us that the murder or abduction of our loved ones was somehow justified. We grasp for words, and sometimes it can feel as if we must gasp for air, during a time in which our people, and our Jewish state, are more vulnerable than ever before in most of our lifetimes. We must look for those who, against all odds, are finding the words; those who are, despite everything, reaching out with open hearts, hands and minds, holding each other up. This is happening throughout Israel, when the entire country is mobilized in this moment of existential threat – everyone is helping in some way. Whether visiting the thousands of mourners, attending hundreds of funerals, sitting vigil with those whose loved ones are being held hostage, collecting and distributing supplies, and so much more. Israel has always been one of the first to help other nations in need, and now its incredible strength and ability to help and provide care is being deployed internally. It is incredible to see, to hear, from my friends in Israel and from the many accounts in the media.
I want to share with you today, as we enter into this third Shabbat in our new world, the words of one of the incredible heroes of this moment: Rachel Goldberg. Rachel is the mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin, one of the young people abducted from the music festival, where 300 others were murdered. Rachel spoke at the UN last Tuesday, October 24th. In a time when words fail, Rachel found the words. May we listen and find strength in her strength, hope in her hope, and may her agony break our hearts open such that we can receive the light wherever it may be found in this dark time. You can watch Rachel’s speech here, and you can also find it within this piece published by Kveller.
Tonight at our Shabbat b’Yachad service, we will sing Hatikvah as we have for the past two weeks and will sing going forward when we come together in precious community. As our older ARS students join us in Israel’s national anthem, “The Hope,” we will be reminded of the millenia-old dream of our people: “Lihiot am chofshi b’artzeinu” – To be a free people in our land. When we sing this now, I am praying not only for the physical freedom from danger and persecution in the land of Israel for the 7 million Jewish Israelis and 2 million Arab Israelis who dwell there, and also for the freedom of our brothers and sisters who are being held hostage in Gaza, but also for another kind of freedom: Freedom from morally bankrupt ideologies that would condone or contextualize the barbaric slaughter of our babies, the kidnapping of our grandparents, the murder of young people singing and dancing at a “Festival of Love and Unity.”
All of us who have the blessing of being rooted in our TOS community will support each other in the long road ahead, using our hearts, heads, and hands in this fight for our freedom. As our people has always done, we will not stop singing, praying, and doing all we can to bring about that world so that we, and all who love life and uphold it as sacred, can live in freedom– the freedom to be safe. I hope to see you tonight, in celebration of Shabbat and our thriving, multigenerational community. We need each other more than ever, and we are so blessed to have each other to hold each other up in sorrow, in fear, in hope, and even in our most difficult times, in joy.
Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman