This is not a memoir or a journal entry, though it may appear to be at first glance. It’s about how I spent last week’s Shabbat, my Sabbath on March 24th, 2018. The day known as MARCH FOR OUR LIVES. Also known as Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Sabbath, the Saturday before Passover.
My husband and I usually attend synagogue services on Saturday morning. But it was different on March 24th, and I made my peace with it. I needed, I NEEDED, to be part of the effort to make a statement about gun violence and guns in schools and the sheer idiocy of our government not doing a thing since – Columbine and Sandy Hook and Parkland. And all the mass shootings in our country at various venues through the years. I needed to be part of it, to be part of the over 800 rallies that were held throughout the country, though of course I do recognize that my single presence at this or any rally, might not be crucial. … What if everyone thought and felt that way? Isn’t it also true that even one person can make a difference?… These were special people who made a difference: Moses, Jesus, Gandhi, Martin L. King, Jr. Did these singular people not change the world? Torah teaches us that one person can make a difference, and that indeed, it is each person’s responsibility to do so.
As I sat at services on Shabbat morning, I was a bit edgy. I even refused the ‘Gelilah’ honor offered to me, to dress the Torah, because I knew I’d be checking my watch at around 11 o’clock, preparing to leave to head to the closest location for one of the anti-gun rallies. I was also thinking of the email I’d received from our rabbi and read on Friday afternoon. Members of our congregation receive a short, pithy weekly email that connects the Parashat HaShavuah, the portion of the week in the Torah, to contemporary issues.
How well stated it was, how timely. This week, for the Sabbath before Passover, Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Sabbath:
“Maybe next week, as the generations gather for the Seder, with all the tensions that come with the holidays, we pray that when we open the door, Elijah will enter and open our hearts to the people we sit across from at the table. At the Seder we are not ordered to listen- we are encouraged to ask. We also pray this year that Elijah will come and help bring the generations together – students in high school scared of gun violence, with their elders who make the laws for our country – to figure out a way to make us safe and secure.”
Rabbi M. Katz
Could the connection be any better? I knew it was meant for me to personally be part of this historic moment in history. It was for me, bashert, pre-ordained.
I was present just for the first and second aliyot, the honor of being called to the Torah. As he often does, Rabbi Katz gave a short talk at that point in the service. His remarks were about the portion of the week, Tzav, which tells about the sacrifices in the Temple. Though we no longer actually offer those sacrifices, they continue into the present day in the form of the Gomel prayer, the prayer one recites when one has encountered a terrifying personal situation and has been granted life: perhaps after a terrible accident, or a serious illness, or even after childbirth.
And then I thought about the times I myself, or my husband had asked for an aliyah and recited the Gomel prayer, thanking G-d to have come away unscathed, thankful to continue life: after having completed a surgery, or having completed cancer treatment, or after 9/11 since my husband is a survivor. As I readied myself to leave the service early, I wondered with a sob in my throat: Will Jewish students soon have to request to recite the Gomel prayer each day they come home from school safe and sound?
I quietly left the synagogue, a bit uncomfortable to be so divided in my Sabbath plans. I drove to the rally, listened to teens from local high schools who are living a very different life from that of previous generations – experiencing lockdown drills, wondering how to protect themselves if an ‘active shooter’ would present in their schools – yet committed and energized to make this a better world. These students were well spoken, respectful, empathetic – the best of the best- and representing many ethnicities and religions. Though most students represented the various local public school districts, one student, a senior, represented his Jewish Day School. He too, thought the day important enough to be there on the Sabbath.
To cheers and standing ovations, the remarks by these students were inspiring; the original slogan of ‘No More Thoughts and Prayers’ changed to ‘Enough is Enough.‘ These students were making it known that they are soon-to-be voters!
I returned home, filled with the strength I gained from the sea of voices of those who will make a difference in this world, and from being in the presence of those surrounding and supporting them.
My husband returned home soon after I did, and we talked about the rest of our mornings – mine at the rally, and his at the rest of the Sabbath service.
I learned from that conversation that the rabbi had also explained that there are various kinds of Jews – just as we read at the seder.
- One is the type of person who only follows scripture exactly and might not even know about a rally.
- Another is observant, realizes involvement is a worthwhile cause and might have participated, but feels that keeping the Sabbath is of most importance.
- A third is the kind of person who thinks a rally doesn’t pertain to them.
- And then there is the fourth kind of person who feels that G-d will excuse the action of attending a demonstration on the Sabbath. To such a person the act of ‘pikuach nefesh’ of saving a life, or even the possibility of it, is of utmost importance.
My reaction was – “This fourth approach was how I felt,” and how perfectly fitting for Passover, when at the seder we ask the Four Questions!
Where was I last Shabbat for Shabbat HaGadol? I was in two places and I had to be in both of them.