Grieving the shooting in Orlando

Dear CBI Members and Friends,

On Sunday morning, as we were celebrating the festival of Shavuot — when we commemorate and re-experience the revelation of Torah after 49 days of eager counting — unthinkable violence was taking place at a nightclub called Pulse in Orlando, Florida. Even as those of us who had stayed up into the wee hours studying Torah were reveling in the pleasure of communal learning, 49 members of the GLBTQ community who had gone that night to Pulse were losing their lives.

Our tradition teaches that we must rejoice in our festivals. But what can it mean to rejoice in our festivals when we are filled with grief? I found myself on Shavuot morning thinking about the glass we shatter at every Jewish wedding, the reminder that even in our times of greatest joy there is brokenness and sorrow. Our challenge is figuring out how to celebrate life even as we grieve — and how to be fueled by our grief to work for a more just world, a world of wholeness and peace. May it be so, speedily and soon.

I enclose below a few words from my ALEPH co-chair Rabbi David Evan Markus and myself, and also a liturgical poem written by Rabbi David (both originally posted at Kol ALEPH). May all who mourn be comforted.

In grief —

Rabbi Rachel


ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal expresses horror, shock and grief for the victims of Sunday’s shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. We stand with all – LGBTQA or straight, those who identify with any faith or with none at all – whose hearts break for the victims, for their loved ones, for a community’s peace shattered, for hope and safety shaken, for rights and dignity trampled, and for political rhetoric arousing religious hatred in its wake. We fervently pray to heal the injured, and we re-dedicate our hearts and hands to building a world in which the twin scourges of violence and hatred end.

In grief and solidarity, we offer this liturgical poem by Rabbi David Evan Markus for use in vigils and prayer services. May the Source of Peace bring comfort to all who mourn, and inspire all to build an ever more just world, speedily and soon.

– Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Markus
Co-Chairs, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal

The Pulse of Revelation

For Orlando, America and people of courage everywhere

This is not the revelation we awaited
After weeks of step by sand-blind step
To that mountain owned by no one,
Senses scrambled, seeing thunder.

What was to be a loving night for
Thunder’s pulse and wisdom’s echo
Became at Pulse a staccato of shots
Because they loved who they loved.

What was to be the culmination of
Fifty days of courtship after bondage
Became blood-streaked caged hunt
Expelling fifty souls from earthly bond.

What was to be a party of plenty
Lifting the omer of bounty to heaven
Became the hellfire of one Omar
Inflicted on a war-weary world.

What was to be of these holy names –
Edward, Stanley, Amanda, Enrique,
Brenda, Jean, Kim and Angel –
Magnified and sanctified in memory?

What is to be of these holy names –
Omar, Ahmed, Amir and Mohammed,
Loyal citizens of this land of the free –
Bracing for wrongful blame or worse?

What is to be of this nation, this moment,
This generation beaten and bloodied into
Protest by tweet while guns blaze and
Medics race hope herself into surgery?

What is to be of this world, slammed by
Sloshing storm tides of hateful mistrust,
Carrying the words of a politics of rage
Hot enough to boil the sea and all of us?

This is not the revelation we awaited.
It comes not in frantic texts, gunfire or death.
It comes not in body bags and funerals.
It comes not in talk show recrimination.

Let Revelation hallow the ground of Pulse.
Let its wisdom resound forever, booming as
Thunder we will see in vigils and legislatures,
Scrambling us all back to our senses

So that finally we hasten the day when
God will bless us and keep us.
God will illuminate us and give us grace.
God will turn with us and give us, all, peace.

– Rabbi David Evan Markus
The revelation we awaited – The massacre at Pulse occurred on the Jewish festival of Shavuot, commemorating the revelation of Torah at Sinai. Owned by no one – Torah came in wilderness to signify that just as wilderness is ownerless and open, so must we be ownerless and open to receive wisdom anew (Numbers Rabbah 1:7). Seeing thunder – The scene at Sinai was so awesome that it scrambled human senses into synesthesia (Rashi Ex.20:18). A loving night – In Jewish tradition, Shavuot is the spiritual wedding of God and the people, Sinai the chuppah (wedding canopy) and Torah the ketubah (wedding contract).Party of plenty – In agricultural days, Shavuot was festival of first fruits for joy (Deut. 16:11). Lifting the omer – At Shavuot, the omer (grain measure) was lifted to God in gratitude (Lev. 23:15). The hellfire of one Omar – The lone gunman Omar Mateen. Magnified and sanctified – The opening words of Mourners Kaddish. Fifty days of courtship after bondage – Tradition calls for counting the fifty days (Lev. 23:16) from Passover’s release from Egyptian bondage. God bless us – From the Priestly (Threefold, Kohenic) Blessing of this week’s Torah portion, Nasso (Num. 6:24-26).

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