Column: Etz Chaim Remembers

Photo Credit: CNN, AP, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Facebook

This was a very difficult week for our community. Eleven good and pure souls were extinguished by hate simply because they were Jews.

They were Jews doing a quintessential Jewish act- celebrating a double naming ceremony during Shabbat services. All were well-known and beloved in their community.

The Torah portion this week is Chaye Sarah, (the life of Sarah). But we learn of Sarah's death in the first verse! There is a midrash that explains that while her husband Abraham and son Isaac were going up to the mountain where Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, the Satan came to Sarah and told her what Abraham was planning. Sarah was so distraught that she collapsed and died.

It seems to me that the Satan was also whispering to the deranged assailant who was convinced that Jews and HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) were somehow responsible for creating havoc in the U.S. Like other anti-Semitic tropes, this one built on the repulsive ideas that Jews do not belong here, even though the first Jew, Joachim Gans, came to the U.S. in 1584. We have been significantly contributing to this country since then, but the Satan continues to whisper.

What we can do in the face of such hate?

I suggest to stand taller and more proud to be a Jew, to stand proudly with other Jews, to welcome and embrace the warm friendship and offers of protection from non-Jews. Next I suggest that you go to a conspicuously Jewish event. Find your local synagogue, and check it out on a Friday night or Saturday morning. Read a Jewish book or watch a Jewish movie to further your knowledge on what it means to be a Jew- and there are many, many ways to be Jewish! Know that the Satan speaks to us too, trying to convince us that being Jewish is too hard, that it's not worth being a target, that we can do good without being Jewish. There are many ways of destroying a people.

We can also look at the example of Abraham, who arrived home from his traumatic encounter with Isaac and the angel with the hope that his family remained intact. But it was not to be. So Abraham purchased a burial plot for Sarah and himself, mourned his loss and bewailed his wife. Then he got up from his grief and continued on with his life. I believe this is the best action we can take to honor those who were killed, to live our lives with grace and pride and love.

זכר קדוש לברכה

May the memory of the holy be a blessing

(this honorific is used specifically for holy martyrs and those killed in times of persecution)

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Noah