But in the aftermath of arguably the worst tragedy to befall American Jewry since the Holocaust, people were being invited for all of the right reasons and without gimmicks. In this case, the organized (sort of) Jewish community (which some Jews harp, often focuses on Israel and cultural Judaism rather than religious observance) has confirmed what rabbis and congregants have known for a couple millennia: Judaism is a communal religion, not a solitary one, and the ritual observances of mourning play a critical role in emotional and spiritual healing. (To say the Jewish prayer for mourning, Kaddash, a minyan, that is 10 adult Jews, must be present; no one should mourn alone.) That’s what the Jewish community is in need of these days — healing.
It’s not often that Jews who associate with the various denominations (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstruction) as well as nonobservant Jews and unaffiliated Jews (not members of a specific synagogue) feel so united. The reason is horribly simple: It doesn’t matter what kind of Jew you are when the anti-Semites are looking for someone to kill.
Even before sundown on Friday (the start of Shabbat), synagogues and other Jewish institutions have been holding vigils, saying Kaddish for the 11 murdered Jews and Misheberach (the Jewish prayer for healing) for those injured (physically, emotionally and spiritually). Now communities all over the country Friday night and Saturday are asking Jews and non-Jews to show up in solidarity with the Pittsburgh Jewish community.
It’s a rare moment of unity as we trudge through the final days of a dispiriting, divisive effort by the president — fresh from his appearance in Pittsburgh — to enrage and scare Americans. The #ShowUpFor Shabbat is a timely reminder that politics should not, and for most of us, is not the be-all and end-all of life. Politicians and their most intense supporters and media camps are engaged in vicious battles but the rest of the country perhaps is more amenable to, hungry even for, solidarity and neighborliness.
A New York-based rabbi who rushed to Pittsburgh wrote about a community vigil there of 2,500 people (with 1,000 more outside) on Sunday, the day after the shooting:
What a profound declaration that night was of the most inspiring parts of the American family. What was displayed was a radically different picture of America than we might experience through the echo chambers of our social media channels.Politicians, pastors, and community leaders spoke. Philanthropists, presidential advisers, and senators were present but they sat silently and listened. A Baptist choir sang. Wasi Mohamed, the executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, spoke and shared how his community had raised upwards of $70,000 [that figure is now close to $200,000] to benefit the synagogue community. He offered to stand guard in front of the synagogue imploring the Jewish community: tell us what we can do for you. Bill Peduto, the Pittsburgh Mayor described his city as one of refuge to all who seek to enter peacefully. And through tears, the rabbis of the various congregations all housed at the synagogue site spoke and described their murdered community members lovingly. The evening closed with musicians from the city’s philharmonic performing a song from the Holocaust.
The rabbi concluded, “The America I witnessed that night was a vision of the beloved community, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so often preached about. That America was in full display: big-hearted, tolerant of difference, passionate and compassionate.”
Maybe that’s what Jews and non-Jews are hoping to keep alive this Shabbat — a loving, inclusive and peaceful America. We can only pray some of that feeling remains after Shabbat ends.