[On this Veteran’s Day and Feast of St. Martin of Tours, I share with you the words of my dear friend and Rabbi Barry Dov Schwartz. Please keep all in your prayers.]
We were just finishing Shabbos services in the Arizona Biltmore. Sonia and I were attending a Jewish National Fund Conference in Phoenix when we heard sirens outside and saw of swarm of flashing police lights. And that is when we were told, about the massacre in Pittsburgh at the synagogue eitz chaim, Tree of Life.
The first phone call I received was from my boss, Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, under whom I serve as chaplain. He called to express solidarity with the Jewish Community, offering any assistance he could. After that amazing call, which gave me an enormous amount of courage and encouragement, I phoned a Seminary classmate of mine, Rabbi Alvin Berkun, who is Rabbi Emeritus of that Squirrel Hill Synagogue. He told me how he was about to leave his house for the synagogue when his wife Flora, fell ill. Rabbi Berkun went back inside the house, to stay with her. He never made it to synagogue that Shabbat morning when 11 of his congregants were literally mowed down while they were praying.
When I returned home from Arizona, I was overwhelmed by the number of voicemails and emails from dear Christian friends and colleagues, who knew very well, that all Jews are one family. Yes, we were all part of that Tree of Life.
The JNF Conference ended with a thousand women and men heartily singing a popular Israeli folk song, the words of which were composed by a great Chassidic master, the Rabbi of Bratislav:
“Kol ha olom kulo gesher tzar meod – v’ha kir lo l’hipoched klal
The whole world is just a narrow bridge, a very narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to be afraid, not to frighten yourself.”
How true: one step to the wrong side, one terrorist who is ready to sacrifice himself in order to murder others, and your life can be over in an instant. So there is no choice but to move forward until we get to the other side.
But how do you do it? How do you move without giving into fear? How do you live in a dangerous world?
The answer according to Jewish tradition is bitachon. You have to have trust that God is the one who enables us to keep on moving across the narrow bridge of life, with the confidence that we are not alone.
So, as the congregation eitz chaim begins sitting Shiva tonight, we mourn with them, we pray for the injured and we express our gratitude for law enforcement.
For indeed we are one family, one Tree of Life.