It feels like it has been forever since I wrote anything. I have tried. And trying to write about being Jewish right now feels like staring at an empty condolence card: You know saying something is important but the words seem inconsequential at best.
We all felt scared, furious and heartbroken learning about the horrible murders at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last month. As we tried to process the awful news, our connections increased and brought the tragedy closer and closer to home. Like a morbid game of “Jewish geography,” we heard how we were related and connected to the victims and the community. On social media, in the news and in person, the links and threads of our world tightened, and the loss and the danger seemed bigger and bigger.
The Shabbat following the murders, there was a call for Jews and non-Jews to attend services to show support. I, ironically, was at a church in Boston that day, having registered for a daylong retreat called “Peace Begins with Me,” hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph. The day was to support caregivers and, as a mother of a child with special needs, I was welcomed. We talked about mindfulness, did yoga and enjoyed some art and massages. It was lovely but I admit that it felt very strange to not be at my temple.
This Saturday morning, I did make it back to services. My daughter’s soccer season and its Saturday morning games were over, the first Shabbat morning bat mitzvah of my children’s Hebrew school class was scheduled, and we headed over. Pulling into the parking lot (yes, we drive to temple on Shabbat, I’m sorry), I wondered how long it would be before Saturday morning services no longer reminded me of the attack in Pittsburgh.
It felt good, right and important to be at Shabbat services—the tunes, the routine, the setting, all felt familiar. The weekend before Thanksgiving, my mind bounced back and forth from feeling thankful to all the things I need to do before Thursday.
Then our rabbi told us something shocking. The day before, as he was getting ready for Shabbat to start, he received an unexpected phone call. Someone from a church in town wanted to come over with a donation and knew that Shabbat was starting very soon.
Church of Our Redeemer in Lexington had taken it upon themselves to collect money to help the two temples in town pay for the added security needed in these scary times. They realized that the Jewish congregations would need to spend money on security and they wanted to help. They reached out without being asked and offered their contribution. The gift and the thoughtfulness were amazing; the generosity and care it showed, even more so. The fact that they knew about the crazy early start to Shabbat this time of year was icing on the proverbial cake.
On Sunday, at Hebrew school, we all talked more about this amazing gift. The session before Thanksgiving had been planned for discussing t’zdakah (charity) and it all felt so very timely, almost eerily so. These days, we are overwhelmed with requests for donations, and with easy ways to donate it can be hard to know how and where to give, and to be frank, not be burned out by the constant need and requests.
The discussion in class mirrored what many of us discuss in our homes. At the end of the year, I struggle to know how to divide up our contribution. The church and the congregants had not waited—they realized the need and wanted to show their support, their solidarity and their love. They acted immediately and rushed their support over as the sun was setting. Like any truly meaningful gift, it was not the money that means the most—it is the fact that someone thought about you and what would help. And then they did it.
Unlike a condolence card and the difficulty of finding the words, the thank-you card I will send to this amazing congregation will fill easily and joyfully.
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