This morning I gathered with my congregation at Temple Emanuel, a synogogue very similar to the Tree of Life in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, where a hate inspired massacre occurred yesterday during a baby naming ceremony. Temple Emanuel is in Newton, Massachusetts, in a community very similar to that of Squirrel Hill. Our rabbi, Wes Gardenswartz, called us together this morning to mark and mourn the tragedy.
I grew up in Pittsburgh. When my father died in 2005, I spent the summer there with my mother, helping to ready my parent’s home for sale. Each morning I walked to the Tree of Life synagogue to say the Mourner’s Kaddish for my father, the ancient prayer for the dead. It was a soothing and uplifting ritual. The murderous attack yesterday on the worshippers at the Tree of Life feels deeply personal and I am in a state of shock and grief.
I found the rabbi’s sermon this morning profoundly moving, meaningful and helpful. I wanted to share it with you. His message was that we do not need to experience ourselves as helpless and powerless in the face of this violence and evil. He framed the massacre at the Tree of Life as a call to each of us to be a force of love in the world, and to fully devote ourselves daily to making the world a better place. He enjoined us to wake up each morning until the day we die, setting an intention to be of help to others and to go to bed each night asking ourselves, what had we done to make the world a better place.
He quoted the words of the modern day prophet Dr. Martin Luther King engraved on his memorial in Washington:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
I am writing to encourage each of you, to be a endless source of love and light in your communities. This will empower you and will serve as an antidote to the natural helplessness and fear we are all feeling. It is the most important thing we can do for ourselves and each other during these dark times.
I chose a pomegranate tree as the image for this post. Pomegranates are sacred in many traditions and are a symbol of fertility and abundance. May your love and good deeds be as abundant as the seeds of the pomegranate and the stars in the sky, and may we all in this way honor the dead and bereaved, and make our lives a blessing.