By Rabbi Fred Pomerantz, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth El
Our family has just returned from Pittsburgh. We went to the Tree of Life building to deliver notes of condolence and strength from last month’s Stand With Pittsburgh interfaith service, where local Christian clergy participated with me in prayer.
The building is still bolted and barricaded. Dumpsters filled with rubble are in the driveway surrounded by a temporary fence. The eleven Stars of David, each labeled with a victim’s name, have been removed to a museum for preservation.
On the northeast corner of the property, placed outside of the metal barrier, are eleven ceramic flower-like colored disks, each on a rod stuck into the lawn. At the foot of each is a fist-sized stone, each with a victim’s name engraved.
At all hours, people came here to place small bouquets of flowers, stones, yahrtzeit candles or memorabilia. One football cleat used by the Steelers in the game the day after the shooting, with a Magen David painted next to the phrase Stronger than Hate, lay on its side in the drizzling rain.
We had come with our daughter, Rabbi Shinder, and her family. The children added their bouquets to the pile on the ground as we said Kaddish. Three other pilgrims joined us there in the rain. No words, simply standing and witnessing.
Then a man who said that he had come from Atlanta to pay tribute said, “I don’t know how to say Kaddish. Will you say it for me?” We did.
As we were leaving, other people approached and nodded in silence. It felt like a visitation at a funeral.
There is no explanation. The gift of life carries no guarantees. And “The People of Israel have known cruel suffering and joyous celebration.” But we can remember. Memory is an act of faith. They shall not be forgotten.
The sadness will not deter us from celebrating Chanukah. When performing an act of kindness, we hallow their memory. We light the candles each night in memory of the Maccabees who bravely died defending our faith and our People. The candles shine in darkness is an affirmation of life. We oppose hate against us and against all people.
A Chanukah teaching is that light and love are stronger than death. Light and love are among the many names of God. This Chanukah, Jews will not stay away from services because of Pittsburgh; they will, across the country, stream to Chanukah services BECAUSE OF PITTSBURGH!
#ShowupforShabbat. Let us light the Chanukah candles and sing the songs of our People.