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Response to the Tragedy in Christchurch

Shalom Chevrei,

This past Shabbat, we contemplated and then summoned a call to action in response to the recent and catastrophic massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand--something that would help us stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, our precious siblings in faith who’ve lost fifty souls so far to an unbridled act of terror.

During our service, we reflected on the parashat ha-shavua, Vayikra, which focuses on the art and practice of sacrifice--the ways in which our ancestors drew near to God. Of course, since the 2nd Temple fell in 70 CE, we have not engaged the rites of animal sacrifice laid out in the Torah. And, so there is always an extra step we must take to figure out how these verses remain relevant in our own lives.

From a dark and perverse perspective, a community of Muslims, who simply came to pray in peace, became sacrificial offerings on the altar of hatred. I am certain that these good people came to their houses of worship, assuming them to be a protective bubble of love and security, just trying to draw near to their most merciful and beneficent Allah. And now they are gone with their loved ones bewildered and bereft beyond belief, their murderers much closer to hell than the Holy One.

This unspeakable tragedy is unacceptable not only because of the unfathomable loss suffered by the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre communities but also because this loss continues a nightmare repeated over and over again--one that we must figure out a way to stop.

In a very telling moment Erev Shabbat, I noticed there was a prayer in our special service booklet that made reference to the devastation at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. I meant to edit that out for last Friday’s tefillot, but its presence became instructive of how much work awaits us.

The stinging kinship of loss that unites us as people of faith is far too real, these terrible experiences are shared across the religious spectrum and humanity in general; and just because we prayed following the Tree of Life tragedy, our effort seems to have had little or no effect on preventing the brutality at Al Noor and Linwood Centre just months later. Friends, we must do more. Even if we pray as though the healing of the world depends on God, we must act as though tikkun olam depends on us. There is no substitute. It’s in this spirit of action and renewed commitment, that Sefer Vayikra and its bounteous verses about sacrifice still remain useful.

The ancient practice of sacrifice, the essence of the sacred rites was known as avodah, literally as work. And in our own time, we have a lot of work to do, well beyond acts of prayer--no matter how intentional and soothing.

Going forward, we must re-dedicate ourselves to whatever sacrifices necessary to ensure that these lives lost in New Zealand will not have been done so in vain. We must hear the call to make their lives and their losses matter.

This effort is not just about sensible gun laws preventing gun violence and eliminating weapons of mass destruction. I am told by a police officer that the gun control in New Zealand is among the best practiced in the world. That said, I cannot imagine that knowledge brings much solace to the families of those murdered and injured.

What we must figure out is how to minimize the hate that fuels such gun violence. That’s no simple task, either. But I do think the avodah required summons a modern-day sacrifice of time and effort to get proximate as it were--to cross lines of difference and discover the humanity and the light of God that reside there, to forge friendships and minimize the kind of prejudice that comes more from ignorance and disconnection than it does animus.

The call to action is to make whatever sacrifices necessary to repair our broken planet, alongside our siblings of faith, alongside all mensches--regardless of faith--and to join together as a collective force for good. We cannot stick our heads in the sand. And we should not live in a bubble. But we can celebrate together. And, learn together. And, pursue justice and grace together. And, shape compassionate friendship together. And enjoy the joys amidst the “oys” together.The avodah ahead is great and it may be difficult to make progress. But as our sages say in the Pirke Avot: “Lo alecha ham'lacha ligmor. V'lo ata ben chorin l'hibatil mimena: It is not our duty to complete the work. Not up to us to finish it. But neither are we free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:21,20). Join me as we give life to this avodah.

Make it a day of blessing and be a force for good!

P.S. Just want to confirm our Emanuel Family Retreat is on officially. We will be in touch soon with more details. Thanks. There’s nothing like a little Jewish immersion to comfort the soul and inspire the spirit. We’re looking forward to diving in with you.

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