Monday, October 29, 2018

A Heart Thing

Emmanuel Huybrechts via Flickr CC2.0
I haven't said much about the loss of life at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill (PA) or Jeffersontown (KY). They both hit close to my heart, for different reasons. I have family in Jeffersontown. I made a special study of Judaism and antisemitism in seminary, specifically Christian antisemitism. These events aren't only politics or current events or pastoral or theological for me. They are heart events. 

When I say "studied Judaism," it sounds cool and detached. That's not how it worked. Yes, there was a classroom involved. But there was so much more than that. 

My seminary required a study trip, an immersion in a culture different from that of the student's birth, for example, to a Native American reserve, to South Africa, to Israel, to a congregation of primarily Deaf persons, and so on. The purpose was for us to experience a culture different from ours, to learn how our dominant culture had impacted another--because all of us at the seminary were dominant in some way (we might not be white or male or straight or temporarily able, but we were Christian). My immersion trip was to Poland, to study the Shoah (Holocaust). I returned to study the Psalms in the face of 9/11 and then to do an independent study of antisemitism in the New Testament during Lent (the Lenten and Holy Week readings contain some of the most vicious antisemitic language in the New Testament) while also studying Judaism in Jesus' time under a Reconstructionist rabbi. You could say I've engaged with Judaism and antisemitism a bit. 

I'm not an expert, I''m not Jewish. But my heart is entangled with my Jewish sisters and brothers. I have just enough understanding of Jewish thought to hurt at the murder of elders celebrating a new life among them. One of those elders survived the Shoah I went to Poland to study. One of the others present was actively involved in saving the lives of HIV/AIDS patients. They were all carrying forward life--the light of G-d in the world, doing good. 

As do so many of us, Jew, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, agnostic, Unitarian, pagan, Hindu, atheist, whatever spiritual identity.

When you've studied with a rabbi, they take on a lifelong obligation to you. Even today, when I have contacted the two I have studied with, they have unfailingly responded with grace and wisdom and knowledge--almost twenty years later! It's a heart thing. 

Several Friday-night Shabbat services--welcomed as a guest, the "Shabbat shalom" so gracious. It's a heart thing.

I've been to a Seder dinner twice--laughter and arguments about what comes next and good food (well, except for the gefilte fish...) and being treated like family. It's a heart thing. A family thing.

And that's what it comes down to. 

Those who can do such things--shooting black grandparents in a grocery store (when he couldn't get into the church), shooting Jewish grandparents in a synagogue--do not see them as members of their family--their human family. The shooters see black people and Jewish people (and, possibly, probably, LGBTQ+ people, and immigrants and Muslims and Latinx people and others) as not quite human, as not deserving of the same quality of life as the shooters do--or of any life.

It's a heart thing.

Can their hearts be changed? At this stage in their life, I suspect not. Wiser heads than mine, friends and relatives who are psychologists and therapists and theologians can weigh in on that. 

Young hearts are malleable, though. Give children the opportunity to know all kinds of people--ages, colors, spiritualities, genders, occupations, education levels, etc.--from the beginning. Give them books and toys and take them to movies and show them TV shows with all kinds of people in them. Send them to diverse schools. You don't have to be lecturing about it. They'll figure it out. 

It's a heart thing. 


Some things to know (in no particular order):
--This is not ahistorical. Everywhere Jews have gone, the government or some faction of society has eventually decided they are unwelcome (see: Spain, England, Germany, Italy (which invented the term ghetto for Jews), Russia, Poland, etc.)
I do not know why hate-mongers through the centuries have so often fixated on the Jewish people, but it seems to have been so.

 --There really isn't a Jewish belief in an afterlife. Those of you who are planning vigils, etc., please don't talk about the deceased looking down on us from heaven, or being angels. I'll leave further discussion to my rabbinic brothers & sisters.

--Men, if you're offered a yarmulke (cap, or kippah, plural kippot), please wear it. It's a sign of respect--covering one's head in the presence of G-d. 

--Kaddish is a mourner's prayer, said for the dead (and it is simply "Kaddish," not "the Kaddish").  Yes, it is chanted and may sound more like singing to some of us. If you don't speak/read Hebrew, don't try to "sing" along; please simply listen respectfully. Prayers are at the heart of Judaism. 

--Candles are always appropriate. They are symbols of the light of G-d (the name of the Holy One is never spoken or written out), so spreading that light is a mitzvah, a good deed. Light candles. 

--Finally, Jewish people are, sadly, experts in mourning and tragedy. This sort of thing has happened to them many times over the centuries in many places. Follow their lead as to what they need or want from their Gentile (non-Jewish) friends and neighbors.

No comments:

Clarence Darrow--Beyond Scopes and Leopold & Loeb

Personalities fascinate me--people do. One way I try to understand history and places is through people--which is why I love good histor...