• Reflections On The Tree Of Life Synagogue

    June 4, 2023
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    By Peter E. Hyman

    An old saying states that we humans are distanced, one from the other, by "six degrees" of separation. It seems to me that "six degrees" is too broad. Rather, we are separated by no more than “three degrees” from others, near and far. Indeed, we stand shoulder to shoulder as brothers and sisters, whether we realize this or not. 

    This week’s headlines highlight the criminal trial of the alleged perpetrator of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where eleven worshippers were shot and two more injured five years ago. The graphic testimonies and 911 recordings rekindle the fear and horror of that day. 

    As I personally reflect upon this tragedy, I think of my own “second degree of separation” from the events of that day. An old friend and classmate comes to mind. He had his bar mitzvah at the Tree of Life Synagogue and was married in the sanctuary. His father was present on that soul-searing Shabbat and witnessed the horror firsthand.  

    Media coverage of the trial forces us to revisit the trauma of that tragic day. What stands out is the vitality of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, which still hosts a traditionally Jewish neighborhood. What is most evident is the pivotal role the synagogue clergy, staff and congregants play in their surrounding community, much like the role of Temple B’nai Israel in our own community. 

    Indeed, we are considered a center of inclusivity, spirituality, and welcome among our neighbors in Easton and Talbot County. The strength of our interfaith relationships overpowers any semblance of hate or dissension. Our communal connections ensure the health and safety not only of our own Jewish community but of every neighborhood in our close-knit community. Our presence guides the positive actions of educational, law enforcement, civic, religious, and corporate leaders alike. 

    I’m constantly told that we are a model of acceptance and engagement. In turn, we engender the respect and affection of those we touch. Our strength as a Congregation is a source of pride and inspiration. 

    I am inspired by the words of Tree of Life-Or L’Simcha Rabbi Jeffrey Meyers, who survived the massacre. He led a memorial service to mark a renovation project transforming the synagogue building into a new museum, memorial, and worship space. 

    "We need to close that chapter today,” said Rabbi Meyers. “We need to move on, and there has to be a moment set aside to be grateful for all the joy we have had in 71 years in that building. We must not permit one day out of 25,993 days to define us nor outweigh the good."

    Without question, Rabbi Meyer's words were heartfelt, touching, and emotional. The most poignant element of the Rabbi’s comments is found in the last word, which he spoke in the context of these remarks. He concluded his passionate address, not with shalom - peace, nor lech b’shalom – go in peace nor with Amen. No, the concluding word spoken by Rabbi Meyers was L’hitraot – I will see you again.” 

    How powerful an ending! How subtle but hope-filled, optimistic and confident a message. L’hitraot – we will see each other again here on this spot, here in this space. We will engage with each other, celebrate times of joy, support one another in moments of sadness, encounter God, and experience kiddusha – the sacred – here, together, in the community and as a Congregation. L’hitraot, not “goodbye” but rather, “until next time.”  L’hitraot – this is not our last time being together. There most definitely will be a next time. I will see you again.

    How strong a message! How important and necessary to hear these words, not just for the Pittsburgh community, but for all of us who desire to engage with one another and with the world we inhabit for good and in goodness. In these words we find a sense of kiddusha, sharing that sanctity with all those we encounter. We are inspired to look around us, embrace the holy and recognize that we are truly blessed by and through one another.

    L’hitraot… until we are together again.  

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