William Hamilton
William Hamilton

Jersey City finally sinking in

“They want me to say something sad and beautiful” recalls writer Dara Horn. It was the second time she had been asked to write a synagogue-shooting op-ed.  “And I didn’t do that. I wrote something angry, because I was angry…I think it’s about honesty.” 

It is about honesty. The post-Jersey City anguish is made vivid by Rabbi Noa Kushner. Four good people – precious souls so full of promise – extinguished by hateful killers. And then there’s confusion. Voices across the Jewish world continue to disagree over ‘Who are our friends?’ and ‘Who are our foes?’

“Jews are being targeted from all different directions while eviscerating one another” writes Emma Green.

What can help us sort things out at such disorienting times?  This week’s portion of Torah contains a detail that can be suggestive.  In the wake of Rachel’s sudden passing and burial in Bethlehem, Jacob (also now known as Israel) learns of additional troubling news.  His eldest son Reuben has cohabited with his concubine.  The verse that conveys this news goes on to say, “and Israel heard” without specifying ‘what he heard’ or ‘how he reacted’ – leaving an open space in the scroll – only thereafter concluding, “and Jacob’s sons were twelve” (Gen. 35:22). 

This spacious mid-sentence pause is highly unusual.  Why does it appear?  Perhaps to indicate the value of patient listening, the worthiness of pause and reflection.  Eventually Jacob will render a judgement (Gen. 49:4).  But he doesn’t rush to do so.  He resists pre-judging, also known as prejudice.  Thus the Torah furnishes us with a model for roomier response-time. 

Today’s responses are so knee-jerk and predictable.  What if instead we leverage the slow-developments that have now made one of the worst attacks on American Jewry clear to measure a more extending response – one capacious enough to hold our anxiety and anger alongside redoubled commitments to the gentle and the gracious.  We can include the kindness of Moshe, the grieving husband and kosher market owner, seen here sweetening the Halloween treat-bags of grateful neighbors.

As we slow down to take time this Shabbat to learn about the lives of Moshe Deutsch, Mindy Ferencz,, Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, and Joseph Seals, may their loves and dreams come to mingle with ours.

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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