On a bright and cozy fall Saturday, I arrived to Temple Emanuel’s Shabbat morning service, to men and women walking toward the door, to cars lining the streets and even propped up on the grass. Three policemen were standing guard by the front door, and two by a table asking to check bags. Their request was softened by a woman greeting congregants and visitors as they entered. “Shabbat Shalom,” she said.… “A peaceful Sabbath.”
Peace. Yes. Peace. And to keep peace, today we needed armed officers by the door and officers rifling through bags looking for weapons.
“Shabbat Shalom,” I answered back. Unexpected emotion caught in my throat as I saw familiar faces wrapped in tallit, the same group of synagogue regulars I saw at Rosh Hashanah only a few weeks ago. It’s a comforting feeling of protection—a feeling of connectedness, of safety and togetherness. There is strength in this group, even though we are a small and intimate congregation.
My children and I walked toward the sanctuary, a place where I can usually arrive a few minutes late and still find my seat of choice. But not today. Today each seat was taken by members of the Virginia Beach community, here to listen, support, and attend in solidarity after the week’s tragic events.
The congregants were treated to words from Rabbi Marc Kraus, Imam Rachid Khould from the Crescent Community Center, Reverend Michael Simone from Spring Branch Community Church, Reverend Kathleen Bobbitt from Galilee Church, and Tracey Swinarsky, on behalf of the LGBTQ community.
At the bimah, Imam Khould spoke about feeling speechless about the shooting in Pittsburgh. . . so much so that he forced himself to speak in this forum, to outwardly process the thoughts we’ve all been having.
And then he said the word once. Twice. Three Times. Murder. Murdered. These people were murdered. The word stung each time it rang out; a sound so cacophonous in what should be a warm, safe, and nurturing place. My eight-year old son turned to me after the third pronouncement. “Mommy—I don’t think that man knows what murder actually means.”
I paused. What a purely innocent comment. Murder is such a vile concept—a concept that shouldn’t find a place in our reality, and especially in a house of God, so it seems inappropriate to use it. In my son’s young mind, the clergy man must be mistaken.
My son’s whisper was heavy. “Did someone get killed?”
And here it was. Up until now I hadn’t shared what had happened in Pittsburgh, choosing to protect my child’s innocence. But in this moment, I found myself whispering, “Last week a bad guy came to a synagogue…but not here…far from here. He killed some people because they were Jewish.”
I saw his eyes change. In that moment, he realized what I didn’t want him to know yet. Some people hate you for who you are.
But just as quickly, I brought his attention to the filled sanctuary—so many people that there were no more seats, that people spilled into the hallway to hear the prayers. “That’s why we’re here today. All of these people, most aren’t even Jewish—they are all here to support us and to stand with us, to help us understand that so many in the world love us.”
Too often, we stand silently next to each other, believing that we are strong enough to stay on our own island, to handle our own conflicts and challenges. But the truth is, without weaving ourselves together, without asking for and accepting social connections, we miss out on a foundation of support, kindness, and of love.
And so, on this Shabbat, we were all rising together, in synchrony, in song, and in prayer. And just like a freshly baked loaf of challah, we were beautiful and imperfect, but whole—individual strands braided together so deeply that no one could tell where one community voice ended and the other began.
On the following Monday, as my son prepared for school, I heard him singing. Hinei Mah tov u-ma nayim.… His voice carried through the house, the tiny, little boy voice announcing the message.
Hinei Mah tov u-ma nayim.… Behold how good and how pleasant it is for people to dwell together.
You got it, kid.