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Highland Park

Number-two pencils. Three-ring binders. Semicircle protractors. Pencil-top erasers. These are the school-supply associations I’ve always had with Ross’s in Downtown Highland Park. I was born and raised in the Braeside neighborhood of town. I needed the erasers more than most.

These associations were shattered when a killer murdered and maimed from store’s rooftop at Monday’s July 4th Parade. He opened fire just when the High School marching band was passing through the intersection. I’m told that the air was suddenly griped by the smell of gunfire. This clarified the arresting difference between fireworks and firearms.

Watching the coverage from Jerusalem, where I’m currently visiting, touring, and celebrating with members of my Brookline, Massachusetts community, made me want to collapse the distance. All week long, I’ve watched people analyze what happened and what it means. I too like to zoom-out. Larger implications do matter. But I confess that these analyses, even the best of them, have felt too forensic.

My deep urge has been to zoom-in. To try and identify with the sensation described by memoirist Tara Westover, of running “until the sound of blood pulsing in my ears was louder than the thoughts in my head.”

Of course, policies need to change. Yes, action must be taken. It’s altogether fitting and proper that we insist on reforms that repudiate the gruesome everydayness which is smashing lives to pieces. Yet, inevitably it seems, the next day we awaken to less-acute feelings. And a couple of days later, we move on. Instead, I found myself this week, again and again, insisting on moving in. I felt the urge to enter and to dwell within the ducts and chambers of the human heart. That region where tenderness and love are active.

In this week’s portion of Torah, the Children of Israel are impatient, yet again. “The people grew dispirited on the journey” (Num. 21:4). The Hebrew word for dispirited (teek-tsar) is related to the word for shorten. Their dispiriting ways had the effect of shortening their soul-space. People sometimes speak about headspace. Occasionally, they may talk about heart-space. Perhaps the people’s problem was that they had grown accustomed to giving short-shrift to the spirit.

First-responses to such wrongness jettison to calls for action. This is essential. But, like the shock of the mourner, or the sensation of tripping on a missed step, you need some time to catch your breath, to hold it still for as long as feels right. Reminding yourself of the worthiness of inner-life wellness, can help you pour new life into your kindnesses and fresh firmness into your convictions.

I hope you’ll consider my zooming-in to be an invitation for you to do the same, wherever you find yourself. That is, wherever your attention is demanded. Zoom in. Let whatever you face enter. Let it dwell inside you. Let it make you more human.

I am praying this Shabbat that the memories of those whose lives were cut short, and the spirits of those whose lives have been forever changed, may be honorably remade into sources of faith-warming blessing.

Just across the street in downtown Highland Park, to the right, I grew up tasting Baskin Robbins mint-chip on a sugar cone. Diagonally across, earlier this year, I enjoyed a savory Walker Brothers Apple Pancake. And to the left, I hold memories of being fitted by Red Fell for my Bar Mitzvah suite.

These memories are imperishable. I won’t be needing that pencil eraser.

A sweet and safer Shabbat to you from Jerusalem.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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