The Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting took place on October 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The congregation was attacked during Shabbat morning services. The shooter killed eleven people and wounded six. Three years later, we cannot forget this tragedy and its implications for our community...and society at large.
From time to time, we read about polls taken among Israelis, asking if they are religious or secular. These polls reflect a popular Israeli division of its population into "dati" (religious) or "hiloni" (secular).
The State of Israel faces attacks on many fronts. Its enemies are relentless in striving to hurt Israel in every possible way. One area of attack is in the area of economics. There are concerted efforts to boycott companies that do business with and in Israel, and to boycott Israeli products.
The Talmud (Berakhot 31a) provides guidelines for how we are to approach prayer: “Our sages taught: One must not stand in prayer in sadness or in laziness, or in laughter, or in conversation, or in light-headedness, or in idle matters; but [one should pray] in happiness [of a mitzvah].”
Those of us who were in New York on that fateful 9/11 will never forget the horror of that day, the terrible loss of lives, the great acts of heroism on the part of so many who strove to help victims of the attack. None will ever forget how vulnerable we are to acts of terrorism. Twenty years later, terrorism is still with us.
The Jerusalem Post (9/23/20) reported that "the Jewish Agency has launched a unique global project that will allow Jews from across the world to send in notes that will be inserted in the Western Wall's ancient stones ahead of Yom Kippur." This is another example of treating religion as a sort of superstition. You can pray to God directly. You don't need to mail a note to a wall.
The reality is that we have an Orthodox community deeply committed to its standards of halakha; and we have a large community of people who think of themselves as being Jewish, although they have not met the criteria of halakha even according to the most lenient halakhic opinions.
A rabbi who introduces stringencies does not thereby gain the title of being “frum.” To declare something forbidden is far easier than to declare something permissible. A really frum rabbi (or lay person) is most often characterized by a spirit of compassion, intellectual openness, and a desire to expand, rather than contract, legitimate religious observance.
During the upcoming period of Elul and the High Holy Days, it is customary to increase our charitable giving. Do we have a philosophy that governs our charitable outlays? Or do we just make contributions randomly, based on who asks us first or who
approaches us most respectfully?
It’s important for all of us—not just synagogue rabbis and leaders—to work to maintain a sense of community. It may not be so simple these days to sit down together for a cup of coffee, but it isn’t so complicated to make a phone call, send an email, share a joke…to let others know that we care, that they matter to us.