Shabbat Shalom from Rabbi Arnowitz

Dear WJC Family,
Last week I wrote to you about anti-Semitism and how we address it by being proud of our Judaism, living our Jewish life “out loud,” and embracing Jewish values in our lives. The specific message of that email was about embracing the Simcha, or joy, of our relationship with God through Torah by celebrating Simchat Torah with us this past Monday night and Tuesday morning.
Simchat Torah at WJC, like the holidays here in general, was truly a joy for me. Dancing with the Torahs (including my family Torah) in a crowded Activity Center full of new friends and neighbors dancing and clapping along with me, that is what Simchat Torah is all about. I was also exhilarated when we spontaneously broke out in Israeli dances that I haven’t done since I was a camper at Camp Ramah—everyone enjoyed it so much I think we’ll have to coordinate a night with our dancing group leading up to the holiday to give everyone a chance to actually learn those dances so we can do them right next time!
On a more serious note, October 27 will mark the English anniversary of the murderous attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. I just read a new study showing that about three in ten Jews reported making the conscious choice, at times, to not wear or display things that would identify them as Jewish due to their fear. Being proud of our Judaism and refusing to be cowed in the face of anti-Semitism is an important response to the Pittsburgh attack and to so many other attacks we have experienced over the last year. Still, I think there is another even better way to pay homage to the memory of the 11 victims massacred in shul that terrible morning.
The people we will be remembering were “shul menschen,” committed synagogue people. They were in the synagogue early that morning because they were in the synagogue early every Saturday morning. These 11 souls relied on the people there and they knew that people there relied on them to show up and be part of a minyan so that they could pray, celebrate and mourn. Tree of Life and Or L’Simcha Congregations were not only the place they were members, but they were also their spiritual homes.
Now, in honor of their memories, I hope we can all follow in their footsteps, coming to services not just this weekend, but for all the reasons synagogues are valuable—to be places of comfort, of joy, of spiritual exploration, and communal caring, week in and week out. Can we help continue their blessing in this world by treating our shul, and every shul, like the spiritual home it has the potential to be and working to make it that for those who need it?
I am sure Elie Wiesel will be quoted a lot in synagogues this Shabbat—there is no one who experienced so much of the worst humanity has to dish out and who continued to write so beautifully about humanity itself. But this is his quote that I think best honors the lives of Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Dan Stein, Mel Wax, and Irv Younger:
What does it mean to be a congregation? It means to care about each other. Pray? We can pray at home. We come together as a congregation in order to share in each other’s lives and in order to share in the life of the people past, present, and future.
In shul this Saturday morning, we will say a special memorial prayer to honor the memory of the 11 shul menschen who were cut down one year ago, but I hope you will join me in doing more than that—let’s make sure WJC is the true vision of an open, supportive and caring community that our greatest writer and Shoah survivor envisioned and that the Pittsburgh 11 lived their lives creating. It is not a one-day project; it is a lifetime commitment to one another, and it has the power to change lives for the better in ways we cannot possibly imagine, including our own. In this way may we insure that the blessing they were for their community continues to grace this world as we live up to their righteousness and priorities.
See you in shul,

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