Having just returned from Poway where my wife and I shared in the burial of our dear friend of 40-years, Lori Kay, and shared the unfathomable grief with Lori’s family, we want to express some thoughts about our own Jewish community in the Puget Sound region of Washington State.
Lori’s murder occurred on Shabbat. Consequently, many Jews among us did not know of this vile act of hatred until after sundown. Yet, by Sunday morning emails were sent from the Federation of Greater Seattle, from Jewish Family Service of Seattle, and from a multitude of Jewish congregations, that a gathering would take place at a local synagogue to honor Lori’s life and to share the grief of her husband Howard, her daughter Hannah, her sisters Randi and Ellen, and so many family and friends. Indeed, the grief reached the entire Jewish nation and the vast multitude of Americans who cherish core American values.
Importantly, the gathering was an opportunity for Jews to set aside our theological, philosophical and political differences. It was a rare moment to express that which we share, and not allow our differences to divide us. No one, ever, will spill Jewish blood, anywhere, and find a fractious or tepid Jewish response. No. We are stronger together than we could ever be apart.
Sunday evening, roughly 400 people congregated at the Eastside Torah Center, a Chabad shul. We gathered as Jews not as Chabad Jews, or Conservative or Reform Jews or secular Jews. And to show solidarity with our community, there were Muslims and representatives of other faiths.
The ceremony organized primarily by Rabbi Berry Farkash of Chabad of the Central Cascades, included several traditional prayers, speeches by rabbis of local Chabad synagogues, by Nancy Greer, the CEO of the Federation, by Rabbi Will Berkovitz, the CEO of Jewish Family Service, and others.
For those of us cognizant of deep and strongly held theological differences among the various rabbis and other Jews present, it was a striking vision. At our core, we are just Jews. From the bimah at a Chabad shul, with the male and female attendees mingling and then seated together, intermixed among Chabad rabbis, female rabbis and other clergy, we heard from men and women, and from a rabbi with a Conservative ordination. Imagine what our community would look like if we could come together like this during times of joy and not just mourning. This ecumenical gathering from our community was a bright light emanating from many different sources that joined to vanquish the darkness. No single source of that light was distinct.
This flood of light was recognition that the hatred and act perpetrated was not against Chabad, it was against the Jewish nation. Likewise, the prayers and the speeches were a chorus of voices blended to deliver a harmonious resolve that Lori’s murder will not deter us, will not defeat us, will not fill us with fear. Instead, we will gain strength from our unity. We will redouble our efforts to be a light among the nations – the supreme example of kindness, compassion and tolerance – and gain strength in our convictions, in our particularity, and importantly in our self-defense.
The Jewish nation was formed through a covenant many millennia ago. Sunday evening’s gathering was indisputable evidence that the covenant remains intact and strong. Our local Jewish community – along with others in a show of support – with no relation to Lori other than she was a Jew and part of the covenant, came together as one to honor her life, provide comfort to her loved ones, and to reaffirm that which we share. May Lori’s death serve as a reminder of our unity.
Am Yisrael Chai.