The Jewish People have many important rituals related to the end of life; prayers that we say, candles that we light and readings that we share. To me, one of the most powerful is the Yahrtzeit - a ritual around the anniversary of the passing of a loved one and a ritual that can be quite powerful to observe, especially on the first anniversary. Scholars think that observing a Yahrtzeit began in the Middle Ages and we know that the origin of the word is German which made its way in Yiddish and then Hebrew. Many of us observe a personal Yahrtzeit and it can be quite powerful when we observe a communal Yahrtzeit as we do this Shabbat.
It was one year ago when a gunman entered a synagogue in Pittsburgh PA and gunned down eleven innocent people. It was one year ago that so many others were wounded, scarred physically and emotionally and when it seemed that American Jewish history changed. Nearly every time we walk into our synagogue or any synagogue, we remember the events of that synagogue, we remember the stories of those innocent people who were sitting in shul on Shabbat just like so many of us do every week; we remember the stories of those who saved lives that day including the Rabbi and others, the first responders who confronted the gunman and so many other emotional aspects of those events - one year ago.
We also may remember the outpouring of love and support for the Jewish community right after that horrific day; the community gatherings in Princeton and in the greater Jewish community, the hundreds of people who came together to support one another, to comfort one another and to share experiences and feelings with one another. I have sad many times in this past year how grateful I am for the people who join us in our fight against Anti-Semitism and who stand with us and support us. We should be proud of the honor and respect we receive in our local community from community leaders, religious leaders and so many others who support us and who encourage us to be a more active voice. While at the same time, we know of other smaller acts of hatred and Anti-Semitism that still occur locally, including some I heard about this week, so we must be even more proactive and vigilant in how we respond.
Ours is an amazing community and we should be grateful for the opportunities and support we feel. One of the reasons is because we are so connected to national causes and international organizations that provide us structure and guidance, wisdom and experience in so many critical areas of Jewish life. Today I want to acknowledge two of our partners as we face these challenges together - how to respond to our challenges today and how to express our emotions on this critical first Yahrtzeit since the shooting in Pittsburgh.
First to our local Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks who have created Pause for Pittsburgh. Here is the text of the message they sent out this week:
Nearly one year ago...
Our community suffered the most brutal anti-Semitic attack in the history of the United States when a gunman opened fire in the Tree of Life building in Pittsburgh, taking the lives of 11 innocent people from three congregations: Dor Hadash, New Light and Tree of Life * Or L'Simcha, all of whom were joined in prayer.
One year later, we will take a moment to honor their memory.
In solidarity, we ask that you join us as we Pause with Pittsburgh.
Join us on October 27 at 5:00 pm EST, as we share a collective moment of remembrance. When you register, you will opt in to receive a series of text messages which include:
A video with a mourning prayer and the names of the 11 lives lost.
A link to a livestream video where you can join the Pittsburgh community in a public memorial service.
An opportunity to submit a message of support.
No matter where you are, together, we will pause and pledge to maintain our abiding sense of unity and responsibility for one another.
I also want to thank the AJC for creating an outstanding program called #ShowupforShabbat that encourages anyone from the greater community to go to synagogue this coming Saturday to be a part of a Shabbat community. I remember the first Shabbat after the shooting in Pittsburgh last year, when this program was first announced and how powerful it was to have so many friends, allies and members of our community with us here at The Jewish Center. I applaud AJC for bringing this program back this week, on the first Yartzeit of Pittsburgh so that we will be able to recall the events together, to recite our prayers of memory and hope together and to again support one another. I encourage everyone to come to TJC this Shabbat or to find another synagogue to express your support and solidarity, to find comfort in the community and to mark this Yahrtzeit.
Tomorrow morning, we will focus part of our service on this Yahhrtzeit and where we are now - one year later. We will say Kaddish together and we will include special prayers in our service. My dear friend, Rabbi Noam Marans, who is the Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations for AJC wrote the following prayer that I want to share with you now.
Renew Our Days as of Old - A #ShowUpForShabbat Prayer
Shabbat Bereishit - Genesis
27 Tishrei - October 25-26, 2019
By Rabbi Noam E. Marans
From the depths we cry out to You 1 Dear God, for You are with us in our straits.2
Hear the blood of our brothers and sisters as they shout out to us, to You, from the ground.3
A year has passed, but the pain subsists. We are not the same.
Dear Pittsburgh, we are with you in your sorrow. We are responsible one for the other. 4
Comfort the mourners who grieve the loss of their loved ones, their friends, those who unite to establish synagogues for prayer and those who enter them to pray. 5
Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal. May our memory of them be for a blessing.
Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, Irving Younger. May our memory of them be for a blessing.
God, Creator, brighten us with the light of the First Day and dispel this darkness. 6
Renew within us our Divine image of the Sixth Day, which fashioned and governs our humanity. 7
Teach us to banish evil and know good, our distinction from the beasts, acquired in the Garden of Eden. 8
Care for the wounded of body and spirit. Enable them, us, to heal and regenerate as Adam and Eve did in the face of unbearable loss. 9
Restore the American Jewish innocence lost, that America could be different, that America will be different. Mend our fractured nation. Bless those who did not stand idly by while their neighbor's blood was shed, who ran toward and not away. 10
Bless those who showed up for Shabbat, now and then. Their presence allows the good of the many to prevail over the evil of the few.
Yea, though we walked through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, for Thou art with us. 11
Renew our days as of old. 12
1. Psalms 130:1
2. Psalms 91:15
3. Genesis 4:10
4. Shevuot 39b
5. Shabbat prayer book
6. Genesis 1:2-4
7. Genesis 1:27
8. Genesis 2-3
9. Genesis 4:24
10. Leviticus 19:16
11. Psalms 23:4
12. Lamentations 5:2
I hope for all of us it is a Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Adam Feldman