Rabbi’s Rumination 10.27.2021

Do you remember where you were three years ago today? It is the tragedies which indelibly make their marks on our minds. October 27th, 2018 was Shabbat – our day of rest and peace. A day when all should feel safe to go to synagogue and worship, schmooze, reflect, and be. I led services that morning for my little congregation in rural West Virginia. After some singing and Torah, we turned to the bagels, the real draw for many. The heat was pumping through the aged radiators that autumn morning, but I remember suddenly feeling cold as I glanced at my phone and encountered a news alert.

Shabbat for many is a time to unplug. By stepping away from electronics, there is a brief respite from the flow of information. And so I envy those who inadvertently avoided news of the devastating violence in Pittsburgh for a few more hours. They continued to enjoy a restful Shabbos, absent the worry about antisemitism, without the confusion about how such terror can occur in a country built on freedom to practice religion. Anyone whose bagel nosh was not interrupted by the knowledge that prayergoers had lost their lives in the face of bigotry and hatred did not yet have to confront the systematic issues of gun control and mental health. At least for a few more hours, the shomer shabbos community put off entrance into an era when this would be far from the last violent act of aggression perpetrated at Jewish houses of worship.

But with nightfall and the emergence of three stars, Shabbat must eventually come to an end. The Havdallah candle acts as our torch into the darkness of a new time and the return of our secular awareness. Soon everyone came to know what had befallen Tree of Life / Or L’Simcha in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Soon we would eulogize and memorialize, bonding in our grief and resolving for change. Today we light a yahrtzeit candle, or we light eleven in respect for the souls lost three years ago. We cannot return to the moments before knowing, we can only work toward a world where such lessons need only be taught as our communal history.

-Rabbi Benjamin Altshuler