Some Thoughts On Pittsburgh

October 28, 2018/ 19 Heshvan 5779

A few weeks ago, neighbors of our lost a child to a car accident.  After absorbing the shock, Terri and I started thinking of ways in which our situation differed from that of our neighbors.  We were searching for some rationale that would reassure us that we were safe from the tragedy that had engulfed others.

Of course, whatever comfort we took from such “that can't happen to me” thinking was short lived.  In our more rational moods, Terri and I both know that life is fragile and precious. It is the reason we pray: not as a way of protecting us from harm, but as a means of giving thanks for the gift of this day, this moment.

By the same token, when a tragedy like what happened yesterday at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh takes place, we often fall victim to the opposite reaction; to the sense that such evil constitutes the new normal in our lives and that we must build a bubble around our lives and our loved ones’ lives to protect them from imminent danger.  This too is a reason we pray: for the strength and courage to live happy, productive lives in the face of the uncertainty that is always there, whether we are aware of it or not.

Almost immediately after news of this horrific crime came out, our synagogue president, Dick Caplan was on the phone with local police to make them aware of our schedule and the times we will need extra attention.  Both of us are reaching out to the people we know in our synagogue community and the larger Wallingford community to make our shul as safe as possible. I should add that we welcome your comments, criticisms and concerns on how we can make Beth Israel as safe a space as it can be.  Beyond the tragedy, there is a message for us in what happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and we are doing our best to heed it.

But there are other lessons here for us to heed as well.  A colleague of mine has already noted the cruel irony that this horror should occur on the Shabbat where we learn of Abraham's hospitality to strangers.  Indeed, that was one of the subjects we were discussing at a rather intense Torah study yesterday while all this was happening elsewhere.

But there are other lessons in our patriarch’s life that we should heed.  Our rabbis count ten trials to which God subjected Abraham: from His original call to leave everything he knew and follow God’s voice, to the ultimate test of being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Through it all, Abraham shows a constant courage; a courage that allows him to surmount each trial and to live a life filled with meaning and purpose.

Ours is a faith centered on the certainty that human life is as holy as it is fragile.  May God grant us the courage to face that fragility as we embrace it's holiness.


Bruce Alpert