I grew up at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh. I learned my first words of Hebrew in the small, whitewashed classrooms of the religious school. I played a lot of eraser hockey on the immaculately polished floors outside the bathrooms on the lower level, and I saved my dimes to buy terrible chocolate chip cookies during the breaks between classes. I was a pretty poor student during those days, but I had my first interaction with the concept of Jewish learning in that building. A little over twenty-eight years ago, I celebrated my bar mitzvah on the bimah in the chapel of Tree of Life, the same bimah on which my sister had been given her Hebrew name just a couple of years before. My first USY event was in that synagogue, and it was the first synagogue I ever left when my family’s religious journey took us elsewhere.
And now the rooms in that building, those rooms I know so well in my mind’s eye, join an ever-growing litany of sites transformed from places of celebration and sanctification into the scenes of destruction and mourning. There is so much violence and heartbreak in this broken world, and now, in this place of my childhood, there is so much more.
There will be time, in the days and weeks to come, to consider the ripple effects of this horrific attack. We will, I am sure, discuss the possible range of policy responses; we will, I hope, engage in a discussion about the meaning of the dangerously heated rhetoric which has somehow become an accepted part of our political life. Closer to home, I can assure you, we will reflect on how this might impact the ongoing conversations at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires about the way we keep our community safe during the summer. There will be time for all this; there is a time for every purpose under heaven.
But this is a time for weeping. A time to mourn for more loss, for more suffering, for more friends and family left bereft by an act of hatred. This is a time to support the various congregations which share Tree of Life. A time, perhaps, to support the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the subject, it seems from news reports, of the murderer’s special ire. This is a time to remember, as the great Pittsburgher Fred Rogers reminded us, “to look for the helpers.” I spoke to my friends in Pittsburgh tonight after Shabbat ended. They told me that many friends walking home from synagogues all over our neighborhood had experienced something amazing: people stopping their cars, rolling down their windows and offering condolences and blessings and words of comfort. “God bless,” they heard, over and over again.
And so do we pray as well: that God will bless us with the strength to follow the Divine example expressed so beautifully in Psalm 147, words we say every morning, “God heals their broken hearts, and binds up their wounds.” There are so many broken hearts in my hometown tonight, and so many wounds to heal. We have so much work to do together.
With hopes for peace,