Their Memories are a Blessing

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, October 31, 2018

Dear Solelniks and Friends,

The Torah portion we are reading this week is entitled Chayei Sarah – “the Life of Sarah”.

Our rabbinic sages ask why this section of the Torah that informs us of Sarah’s death, is not called “The death of Sarah”. The answer is that even in profound grief, our focus is on remembering the life of the person who has died, all of the gifts and blessings that they shared with us by their presence, and resolving to honour their memory by committing to carry on their unique work in this world.

As we mourn with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh the devastating losses in their community, we remember the lives of those who died. Our tradition teaches that if you destroy a single life, you destroy an entire world. The members of the Tree of Life synagogue who were brutally murdered this past Shabbat were 11 entire worlds, unique individuals who had friends and families, hopes and heartaches and dreams. They are not statistics. We know them – they are the devoted supporters of the synagogue; the kind, loving, welcoming faces who show up every week for Shabbat. They come early to help set up and stay late to help with cleaning up the oneg. They are the ones who volunteer to help for everything, show up for education sessions, and we take for granted that they will always be around. Others will now have to take on their mitzvot, and be their kaddish. They were taken away in a senseless act of hatred. We are left with disbelief and grief. We will not forget them. We will tell their stories. Zichronam Livracha – their memories are a blessing.

We will remember:
Joyce Fienberg, 75
Richard Gottfried, 65
Rose Mallinger, 97
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Cecil Rosenthal, 59
David Rosenthal, 54
Bernice Simon, 84
Sylvan Simon, 86
Daniel Stein, 71
Melvin Wax, 88
Irving Younger, 69

And we will pray the words of Mi Shebeirach, for healing and strength, for those who were wounded and for the families and friends of all whose world has been shattered this week.

Synagogue Members:
Andrea Wedner and Daniel Leger

Pittsburgh Police Officers:
Daniel Mead, Michael Smidga, Anthony Burke, Timothy Matson, John Persin, Tyler Pashel

As we mourn with our worldwide Jewish family this week, we have seen extraordinary acts of kindness from within Pittsburgh and around the world. Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Ministry immediately sent a team of Hatzalah emergency medical experts in emotional trauma to the community. Rabba Sara Hurwitz, the first woman ordained in modern orthodoxy, traveled Pittsburgh, simply to bring comfort through presence, to sit with the families, to be there for the immediate mourners, and to lift some of the burden for other rabbis in the city. Members of the community arrived to volunteer as the shomrim who would guard the bodies until burial. Kavod v’Nichum – the Hevra Kadisha society sent members from other cities if needed to assist the local group with taharah – ritual washing and preparation of the bodies for burial. The Pittsburgh JCC is offering drop in counseling for anyone in the community, local museums are offering free admission for children and families to have a place to spend quality time together in a safe location, the YMCA locations are open to the community. Communities across the world are holding vigils and gatherings of support with prayer and song.

And here in Mississauga, we are grateful for the condolences and gestures of love and support that has come to us from our local community and from friends across the world. My inbox as well as Arliene’s have been overflowing with messages. While we know that there are some people in this world who are filled with hatred and bent on our destruction, we must remember that the vast majority of people are kind and helpful. For the last several mornings when we have arrived at Solel, there have been flowers left in front of our door, some with notes and some anonymous. Neighbours who live across the street, down the block, have come in to share how sad they are and inquire what they can to do to be of help. We have cried together and hugged. On this coming Shabbat morning, Saturday November 3rd, members of our interfaith community will be here to form a ring of peace around Solel. No outpouring of support can return the lives of the 11 murdered, but the worldwide flood of support for Tree of Life Synagogue, its congregants, Jews across the world reminds us that good far outweighs evil.

In moments like these people often say there are no words. But we have words and we must speak them – words of peace, words of comfort and condolence, words of strength and words of love. Rabbi Joachim Prinz who faced anti-Semitic persecution in Nazi Germany, said “bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.” We will not be silent in the face of hate.

Our strength in moving forward is that we are blessed to have the love and support of our friends. Now more than ever, we must re-commit ourselves to kindness, compassion and strengthening our communities. Together we must continue to speak out against hatred, bigotry, discrimination, prejudice, and anti-Semitism in our world, and continue our work towards peace and understanding. Our synagogues will remain centers of hospitality, kindness and community. We will not let hate and extremism win.

May the memories of those lost and the courage of the ones who responded to the attack give us strength and determination in the days ahead.

Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

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