A Living and Loving Sanctuary

We remember. Today. Tomorrow. Their pain and their story may soon become yesterday’s news.

Stanley Almodovar III, Amanda Alvear, Oscar A Aracena-Montero, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, Antonio Davon Brown, Darryl Roman Burt II, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, Juan Chevez-Martinez, Luis Daniel Conde, Cory James Connell, Tevin Eugene Crosby, Deonka Deidra Drayton, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, Mercedez Marisol Flores, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Paul Terrell Henry, Frank Hernandez, Miguel Angel Honorato, Javier Jorge-Reyes, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, Kimberly Morris, Akyra Monet Murray, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Joel Rayon Paniagua, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, Enrique L. Rios, Jr., Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, Edward Sotomayor Jr., Shane Evan Tomlinson, Martin Benitez Torres, Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, Luis S. Vielma, Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, and Jerald Arthur Wright.

49 souls. 49 names that may join the likes of Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance. Depayne Middleton-Doctor. Reverend Senator Clementa C. Pinckney. Tywanza Sanders. Daniel Simmons. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson. Our universal Yartzeit list.

Human beings. Victims of hate.

Two events. One year apart.

June 12, 2016.

June 17, 2015.



Ear shot from our own community. Discrimination based on race and sexual orientation. Two sanctuaries for those most vulnerable were desecrated. What followed were isolated moments of solidarity, but these were not isolated moments of incitement. Extremists of all religious backgrounds incite violence — burning of churches and the harassment of the LGBTQ community. A year later, a nation who requires a Sunday school tutorial on loving your neighbor and respecting others, how do we fight the furious onslaught of vitriol dialogue and actions?

When I attended the funeral of Reverend Senator Pinckney the week following the Charleston massacre, I said that I didn’t want to “pray by proxy,” as I put it in my reflections online. To be with those in pain, to those who shared a common concern, was a powerful moment for me. But we all have that capacity to pray. I live in the south, where prayer  is a beast of its own. Pastor has a moral obligation to spread love and understanding, but parishioner shares that responsibility. Back in 1992, composers Randy Scurggs and John W. Thompson wrote the following words:

Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary,

pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.

When sanctuaries are under attack, WE must become that haven for those in need- the hand to hold and the voice to speak out against hate. Just as Max Brenner in Tel Aviv reopened immediately following a terrorist attack, we can declare boisterously that inclusivity and solidarity are open for business. When hate fills the pews and the airwaves, we each have the opportunity to proclaim that the gates of loving-kindness are the path best traveled.

What will prayer do, you ask? Prayer leads to self-evaluation, to action. Prayer can open our hearts to being that sanctuary for those we love deeply and those we don’t know. We can become havens for our communities, advocates for change and growth, and better human beings. As Rabbi Alvin Fine stated, “life is a journey, a sacred pilgrimage.” May we make the pilgrimage together as sanctuaries for hope and healing in the year ahead.

About the Author
Hazzan Jesse Holzer currently serves as the Cantor of the Jacksonville Jewish Center. Hazzan Holzer received his BA from New York University and completed a Masters Degree in Sacred Music and investment as a Hazzan from the H.L. Miller Cantorial Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2008 . He is an avid sports enthusiast, enjoys travel and playing piano, and is a devoted collector of Jewish music and rare prayer books.