Today the community lays to rest Reverend Clementa Pinckney along with the others murdered last week: Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Rev. Daniel Simmons, and Myra Thompson.
We have much to learn from the power of faith and the power of forgiveness of these extraordinary people and those who are left behind. The survivors of those who were slain by a human consumed with hate have shown the power of love and forgiveness. Jewish tradition views forgiveness differently. Personally, I struggle to think I could forgive as they have. We all have something profound to learn from these wonderful people imbued with a faith based in love.
We say zichronam livrachah, may their memories be for a blessing. The nine people assassinated during bible study in their church truly were a blessing to us. They and those they leave behind are an inspiration to all of us. We are all blessed. May that blessing be merited, may we build on what they have left to us.
In the sturm und drang that marks the conversations about Israel, those who are to the political Right accuse those who are to the political Left of center of undermining the Israeli government while they, the Right, support the government.
This is a charge to which the Left of center must plead guilty. But realistically is it wrong? The Left of center groups such as JStreet believe in a safe, secure, Jewish and Democratic Israel. In a part of the world that is decidedly none of those things, we believe that all four of these attributes can live here. But we have much to do in order to fully realize these ideals. Both internal and external issues pose real threats to these ideals. We point out the deficiencies because we do love Israel and we believe the State aspires to the best we can be only when we realize these four goals. So we are critical because of our commitment to an Israel whose soul and body are sound.
Often people hear the criticism and do not hear the rest. The rest of it, the basis for all of it, is that love and commitment. Only when you truly care about something can you become invested and strive to help make it better. That message sometimes gets lost. But it is fundamental to everything we do. Israel is imperfect. we love it none-the-less and work to make her better. Leonard Cohen’s refrain from his song Anthem sums it up well:
We think of “being present” for the other as being available to hear them and be with them. We say we reach out to them but often we are really offering to wait for them to come to us. I have learned that is not enough. Offering to be there is a far cry from going to where they are. And I have also learned that when someone needs another, they rarely have the presence of mind to reach out to someone else, instead they are trapped, caught in a place of aloneness.
A friend recently lost a son, a tragedy that words cannot adequately describe. He was loved by many, as was his mother, my friend. People packed both the funeral and the Shiva minyanim, expressing their love and support. At one minyan, I approached my friend and I said in earnest, “Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.” She responded, “Thanks, you’re the third rabbi who has made that offer tonight.” She was appreciative, but her matter-of-fact response was very instructive.
Two weeks later I called her. She had heard that I weaved the story of her son into a sermon and was overflowing with gratitude that I had remembered her and him. The simple act of making a phone call, reaching out to her, rather than sitting waiting for her to call me, was received as a profound gesture of caring. In those few minutes I truly did something important and meaningful. I went to her and provided comfort. Realistically, she never would have called me, and it was unrealistic for me to think otherwise. She was unable to reach out to me. Whether we are providing pastoral care or being a friend, it is what we do that makes the difference in the lives of others.