Regular readers of this blog may have noticed a change in name from “Torah From The Square” to “Torah From The Rockies” and the reason is because my family and I have transitioned to new positions in Denver, Colorado. For the past three years I served as the full time rabbi of the Harvard Hillel in Cambridge, Mass. and it was there that I developed close relationships with students, community members and faculty. It was a tremendous experience and I feel blessed for the memories I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
A little more than a month ago my family and I moved to Denver where I have become the new senior rabbi of BMH-BJ Congregation, Denver’s oldest and largest Modern Orthodox synagogue. I am so fortunate to be a part of this community and I am privileged to have been chosen to assume the spiritual leadership of such a diverse, vibrant and dynamic synagogue. Prior to the move I had attempted to post on this blog once a week but with the upheaval of moving and transitioning that was not possible, but I do hope to resume that practice once again.
This morning I woke up to horrific news of a tragedy that occurred just a few short miles from our new home. An individual had walked into a movie theater in the city of Aurora wearing a gas mask and opened fire randomly on a packed audience of people watching the opening premiere of a new summer blockbuster. As of writing this twelve people had been killed and another seventy one injured, including a three month old baby. My heart cried and my soul sank as I read the news of this most devastating news. During morning services at synagogue we offered up special prayers from the Book of Psalms for the victims and survivors.
The Jewish newspaper in town, The Intermountain Jewish News, asked me to comment from a Jewish perspective on the situation. First of all, it is hard to comment from a Jewish perspective on a human tragedy. The humanity inside of me and inside of all of us cries out in pain at the loss of innocent life and the sheer brutality and senselessness of it at all. Nonetheless, the Jewish story spanning several millenia does offer a lesson on how to respond to tragedy. Indeed, this morning marked the observance of the new Hebrew month of Av which contains within it the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, the 9th of Av, when Jews around the world mark and commemorate the loss of both Temples (586 BCE and 70 CE) and the subsequent two thousand years of exile and dispersion.
The message I draw from the Jewish narrative arc is that when disaster hits an individual, a family, a city or a nation, the response can only be one thing: to not only rebuild but to imagine a better future and work towards that aspiration. Every time Jewish communities were struck with persecution and violence, the response was to pick up the pieces and work for something greater and better than what existed before. The goal is to catalyze the tragedy as an impetus for a more perfect, more just world.
Acts of violence can tend to produce fractures in the fabric of society; it can tear apart the bonds that bind us together. Our response must be to cultivate an even closer, more interconnected and more understanding society than the one we had before the tragedy. Instead of viewing the stranger next to you in the market, mall or movie theater with suspicion, extend a greeting and build new bridges between you and the other. Those who wish to tear apart the communal cohesion that shared societal spaces represent, whether they be movie theaters, parks or shopping centers, cannot be allowed to succeed. The response is not seclusion but rather inclusion.
The lives that were lost will forever be a wound on the collective fabric of our nation and the survivors and the family and friends of the victims will forever grapple with this experience. We must be there for them in every way we can. We also must work towards a more perfected, more whole and more interconnected world. To rebuild an even greater society can ultimately be our greatest protest against the senselessness and terror inflicted.