I used the words “tragic irony” last night to begin our security training that was scheduled over a month ago. As we learned about how to protect our congregation, we carried the city of Uvalde, Texas in our hearts as the news about Tuesday’s school shooting weighed heavily on us. And not quite yet forgotten was the Buffalo supermarket shooting just ten days prior, with some of the victims still not buried.
Protecting human life is one of the most important values in Judaism – in many religions. The Talmud teaches, “Human beings were created as a single individual to teach you that anyone who destroys a single life is as though that person has destroyed an entire world, and anyone who preserves a single life is as though an entire world has been preserved.” (Talmud Sanhedrin 4:5)
How did our society – our country – forget that life is precious? When did some people stop caring? Over a week ago, my daughter told me that she didn’t feel safe at school. I was both surprised and a little resigned that my strong-willed and outspoken daughter felt unsafe in the place where she spent most of her time, second only to home. She described other students talking about guns and LGBTQ teens being targeted and harassed in the bathrooms.
My heart is broken and keeps breaking. My grief is wound up in writing yet another one of these eNews articles as we all try to find a path to healing. Some of us have children who feel unsafe, some of us have been personally touched by gun violence, and for others – we want better for our community.
Last night, we gathered and prayed, but most of all we took action by learning concrete safety measures. We each walked away with at least one security strategy we felt we could do ourselves, thus reclaiming our power. As a religious community, we need prayers to hold us together. As a community that values social justice, we need to act in order to reclaim our power and repair our world.
I implored our congregation last night: vote your values, vote your Jewish values. We need courageous leaders who will put into place what the majority of our nation wants – common sense gun laws.
We have a lot of work to do, internally and externally. I pray for the future of our children and for the healing of our breaking world.
Opening Prayer for the Colorado State House in the Aftermath of a Tragedy February 15, 2018
By Rabbi Joe Black
(and still applicable today, 4 years later)
Our God and God of all people,
God of the Rich and God of the poor.
God of the teacher and God of the student.
God of the families who wait in horror.
God of the dispatcher who hears screams of terror from under bloodied desks.
God of the first responder who bravely creeps through ravaged hallways.
God of the doctor who treats the wounded.
God of the rabbi, pastor, imam or priest who seeks words of comfort but comes up empty.
God of the young boy who sees his classmates die in front of him.
God of the weeping, raging, inconsolable mother who screams at the sight of her child’s lifeless body.
God of the shattered communities torn apart by senseless violence.
God of the legislators paralyzed by fear, partisanship, money and undue influence.
God of the Right.
God of the Left.
God who hears our prayers.
God who does not answer.
On this tragic day when we confront the aftermath of the 18th School shooting in our nation on the 46th day of this year, I do not feel like praying.
Our prayers have not stopped the bullets.
Our prayers have changed nothing.
Once again, a disturbed man with easy access to guns has squinted through the sights of a weapon, aimed, squeezed a trigger and taken out his depraved anger, pain and frustration on innocents: pure souls. Students and teachers. Brothers and sisters. Mothers and fathers- cut down in an instant by the power of hatred and technology.
We are guilty, O God.
We are guilty of inaction.
We are guilty of complacency.
We are guilty of allowing ourselves to be paralyzed by politics.
The blood of our children cries out from the ground.
The blood of police officers cut down in the line of duty flows through our streets.
I do not appeal to You on this terrible morning to change us. We can only do that ourselves.
Our enemies do not come only from far away places.
The monsters we fear live among us.
May those in this room who have the power to make change find the courage to seek a pathway to sanity and hope.
May we hold ourselves and our leaders accountable.
Only then will our prayers be worthy of an answer.