Dear Members of Congregation B'nai Torah,
On the heels of our Passover celebration, we learn of yet another incident of gun violence in America in a house of worship - this time, in a synagogue in Poway, California, just outside San Diego. Once again, we check in on the well-being of family members and friends, remember the last time we were in Southern California, feel pained by the news that Lori Kaye was killed on Shabbat and the last day of Passover - saying Kaddish (memorial prayers) for her mother who died in November.
Our hearts are filled with sadness. We American Jews are running out of words to express our shock, sorrow, and empathy for those worshipers who were placed in the center of such senseless and brutal violence. But we must find the words, and more importantly, we must discover and rediscover the empathy that truly makes us human beings and that differentiates us from the rest of the animal world.
The familiar questions emerge: What conditions in our country and in our world are perpetuating the violence associated with white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and racism? How does a nineteen-year-old gunman - a teenager - become radicalized, gain possession of an assault rifle, and mercilessly enter a place of peace and prayer with the sole intent of killing worshipers? What do these devastating events say about young people in America? About American families? About our society as a whole?
With each successive shooting, we have more and more questions and fewer answers.
At Congregation B'nai Torah, we are following safety protocols, continuing our services and programs, and approaching the situation with determination and pragmatism. Just hours after the shooting, many Congregation B'nai Torah members found comfort in the company of others, enjoyed music and shared laughter at our annual Adult Social last night. We directed our thoughts and prayers toward San Diego, but nevertheless came together in our synagogue to gather in joy and in resistance.
We cannot resort to despair. We will not allow fear to overtake the stubborn optimism that has long characterized Jewish communities around the globe. Today's CBT calendar continued uninterrupted as well, with a Social Action meeting this morning and a Grade 6 pre-B'nai Mitzvah program for moms and daughters this afternoon. We resist yesterday's violence by renewing our commitment to live as a Jewish community today - through prayer, learning, good deeds, and communal gathering. We revitalize our dedication to Jewish history, practice and culture when we sit together this week to observe Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Remembrance Evening -- on Thursday, May 2 beginning at 7 pm at Congregation Or Atid in Wayland. We have the increasingly rare opportunity to listen to the testimony of survivor, Rena Ferber Finder at this special program and hope you will join us.
In addition to keeping those in San Diego in our hearts and prayers and to sustaining Congregation B'nai Torah as a sacred center for family, education and spirituality, there are some concrete ways that we can join ourselves to the Reform Movement and resolve to change the status quo through legislation, lobbying and speaking out against anti-Semitism and all forms of gratuitous hatred. I recommend this call to action sent out today by Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center in Washington D.C.
During the weeks between the two great Festivals of Pesach and Shavuot, it is customary to study words from Pirke Avot - the Ethics of our Ancestors. In that spirit, I share with you this excerpt from Mishnah Pirke Avot 2:16:
"Rabbi Tarfon used to say: It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it."
With prayers that we continue the work together - in strength and in peace.
Rabbi Lisa S. Eiduson