I really enjoyed Passover. I found the holiday uplifting and joyous. I was filled with gratitude and wanting to bring that quality of appreciation into my life outside the holiday. So we made Havdalah after Shabbat and I went upstairs to check my cellphone and then go out for chametz (in our case, an ice cream cone. I’m past wanting pizza at 9 at night…).
I had a text from Pastor Smith wanting to know how I was doing. Filled with anxiety, I checked the news and learned of the terrible shooting in Poway. And all the energy and joy was sucked out of me in one sad moment. The shooting in Pittsburgh was horrific and tragic but also energizing. It inspired me and so many others to do more Jewishly as an act of defiance. It reminded me of all our friends and the enormous good will that exists in the United States.
Somehow this shooting just seemed like normal life. This is how it is going to be now. We are going to have shootings in Synagogues from time to time. People will run their cars into pedestrians because they imagine some of them to be Muslim. And that feels exhausting and horrible.
I went on a walkthrough with our amazing building leadership team to evaluate new security needs at the facility in light of the last few months. And here too I felt drained and sad. Our beautiful building cannot become an armed fortress closed off from our supportive and loving neighborhood. I can’t imagine cowering in fear every time we gather. And yet we must make changes so the facility is harder to enter and we are more secure.
There is light even amid this darkness. The Chabad Rabbi of Poway is a great spiritual leader and his faith shines through when you hear him talk. His strong voice will strengthen his community. He believes God jammed the assault rifle. I am tremendously moved by such faith. One ray of light: faith more than fear will sustain us.
I am also moved by the interfaith connections that now exist. I have received many letters from both Christian and Muslim leaders offering their support and love. It has been hard for Jews and Muslims to find common ground in recent years. While we mourn these attacks, the attempt by some to deny our shared humanity is reminding others that faith can and does unite us. These hateful extremists are perversely opening a pathway of communication. Another ray of light: friendship and love can protect us.
I am appalled and exhausted by the violence that is possible in our culture. There is a political dimension to our response which is why I support legislation that bans or limits military assault style weapons. At the same time, we must meet the causes of violence with love. All four recent perpetrators (I mean the attacker in Pittsburgh, in New Zealand, in Sunnyvale, and in Poway) were isolated individuals. The three gunmen lived far too much in social media hearing views that reinforced their own hatreds and inadequacies where an attack seemed heroic. I believe communities of faith have a great task to confront the loneliness and social isolation that infects the modern era. We know how to build communities and how to create good social connections in face to face relationships. We are good at reminding people they are created in God’s image. Perhaps this can be another ray of light.
May God offer comfort to those mourning the passing of Lori Kaye, murdered in Poway last Shabbat. May God offer healing and strength to those hurt there and in Sunnyvale. And finally, may God strengthen us to find energy and hope that brings healing into our world so in need of repair.
Rabbi David Booth