On removing the Torah from the Ark we will replace the Torah Mantle with the special mantle created by the CA for the Torah of the Tree of Life Congregation that is circulating around the country.
One year ago according to the Hebrew calendar our community was reeling from the news that was unfolding from Pittsburgh and the vicious acts of violence that rocked the Tree of Life congregation. Amid frenzy of anxiety about safety and security in our houses of worship there was also an outpouring of love from our neighboring faith communities. Amid the fear of rising antisemitism, and the hand-wringing about the seemingly irreparable fracture points that continue to separate our country, there were huge, public assemblies of the faithful who stood, sang, cried, and were silent with the Jewish people, for we all knew that what happened at the Tree of Life Congregation could have happened anywhere.
After the violent and senseless ends of individual Jewish lives, and the attempt to end many more, a scar has begun to form over our deep communal wound: still visible, still red and new-skinned, the beginning of healing. One year after, while we are still in very much in the aftermath of death, we have been able to see the sprouts of life that have taken root over the past year. We have witnessed an outpouring of love to our brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh: clergy came down to help with counseling, lawyers, contractors, doctors, nurses, first responders and more offered their services pro bono, families sent stuffed animals and made sweet potato comfort pies, congregations donated money, companies donated construction materials, friends and neighbors made and delivered food, cut red tape, navigated bureaucracy, created art, donated Judaica, and deepened relationships. This is what happens after tragedy – this is the response: all of the above – and all of the above boil down to: stare down death with unapologetic life. So many of us did this in our own small way last year: by showing up on Shababt one year ago to celebrate with Lexi at her Bat mitzvah – with or without the #showupforshabbat hashtag – we continued to live our lives amid the horrific chaos and uncertainty, because this is what we do.
This is what our forefather Abraham did, as we read this morning – as our parasha Hayei Sarah begins at the aftermath of death (albeit after a long and full life).
“Sarah lived to be 127 years old – this was the lifespan of Sarah’s life. Sarah died in Kiryat Arba in the land of Canaan, and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her.
Then Abraham rose after the death of his wife” – and goes on with the business of living the best he can - negotiates a burial site for his wife, and inters her there. Then, he attends to the business of life, namely, marrying off his son, remarrying Keturah, and continuing to produce children and grandchildren. The parsha concludes with Abraham’s death, and Isaac and Ishmael coming together to bury him in the same cave that their mother was buried in.
After death, after trauma, after the unthinkable, to keep living is enough. To show more love, to batten down against hate – or, as my friend and colleague, Tree of Life Synagogue’s spiritual leader Hazzan Rabbi Jeff Myers calls it, the “H-world” is a radical act. After death, keep living. After death, show more love. After death, if you can, and if it will bring you healing as you mourn, make something beautiful in response. Let art have the last word, and let art be the first word in a new conversation.
Today, Adath is proud to host a stunning Torah cover created by the Cantors Assembly to inspire us to reach out to one another once again and offer messages of unity and friendship. And this message in inherent in the artwork of the Torah cover itself, which is rich with symbolism.
During the coming year the Tree of Life Torah cover is traveling around North America, to many different communities, who have pledged to “dedicate that Shabbat to messages of harmony among faiths, the preciousness and precarious nature of life, civic action projects which work toward keeping our children and citizens safe, etc. It lends itself to adding a great sense of inspiration to and serving as a springboard for teaching the community, blended by bringing faiths together, about tolerance, acceptance and fellowship.” After this year of travel, the Torah cover will be in the aron kodesh (holy ark) of the Tree of Life congregation for all to see.
This Torah cover has specific symbolism that is unique and special to the Tree of Life congregation including:
Words from the prayer for the New Hebrew Month (“for life, and the fulfillment of the desires of our hearts, for good”) Each Shabbat on which this prayer is recited is called Mevarchim HaChodesh.
*In a non-leap year, Mevarchim haChodesh is recited 11 times (representative of the 11 blessed lives lost on October 27, 2018).
*The 11 black and gold stars have special resonance in Pittsburgh – Steeler colors.
* There is a tradition that in each generation there are 36 saintly people (Lamed Vovniks) alive in the world who do unparalleled good in their lifetimes. The 25 silver stars (added to the 11 black and gold) represent the Lamed Vovniks of Pittsburgh on the day of the Tree of life tragedy, honoring the first responders, hospital personnel and myriad others on that Shabbat morning.
*Also present is the shape of the Rosh Chodesh new moon, an image of new beginnings.
*The circles, of many colors, represent a ‘River’ of comfort flowing down from all over the world to reach this community. This ‘river’ then nourishes the tree of life which grows from the word Goodness (L’Tovah). (Pittsburgh is distinctly known for its Three Rivers and the bridges which traverse the waters to bring communities together).
*The prominent line of text asks that Goodness Fill our Hearts, a prayer for the world. The first word, Chayim, was the Hebrew name of one of the victims, Cecil Rosenthal, who regularly carried the Torah in the congregation. The Second word L’Tovah is the essence of this prayer. Each person is obligated, by the Creator to share their goodness within with all others with whom they come in contact throughout their lives.
The inscription sewn inside the back of the Torah cover reads:
Though we may live beyond
“The Neighborhood” our hearts are with you in the East.
חברים כל ישראל
In memory of your cherished Tree of Life, Dor Chadash and New Light family members, now stars whose guiding light shall never dwindle.
And in honor of, and gratitude for, our colleague and friend
Hazzan/Rabbi Jeffrey S. Myers
From your worldwide
Cantors Assembly Family
Kislev 5779 - כסלו תשע''ט
Thank you Hazzan for your leadership as an officer of the CA and your part in bringing this powerful ritual object to our congregation. It is easy to take for granted the ritual items that we use all of the time in our Jewish faith. It is moments such as this that remind of us of their importance and the power of the message they convey.
Our hearts go out to the Pittsburgh Jewish community and to those who are still healing from their wounds in the aftermath of this and other attacks generated by hated of others.
One powerful message that came from Pittsburgh after the attack was the deep appreciation of the solidarity of diverse faith communities. As I shared in my Yom Kippur message, we must not forget that we have many allies in the broader community and from communities of faith. We are blessed to have a supportive relationship with local policing organizations, that we do not take for granted.
Thank you to friends from our community who are here today:
Hazzan Dulkin called our attention to the parsha Chayei Sara which starts by speaking about life and death. It ends by speaking about reconciliation. In Gen 25:9 we read that after the death of Abraham, “His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah.”
I invite you to take a look at that passage on p. 140 which reminds me of the back story of Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac, whose father took him up to Mt Moriah to offer as a ritual sacrifice before an angel of God stays his hand. There is no record of Isaac having any contact with to his father Avraham after that event until this mention of his role in burying his father. And Ishmael, who was expelled from his father Abraham’s home together with his mother Hagar who almost died in the wilderness until God intercedes and enables his mother to see a water well to save his life. There are no further mentions of Ishmael having contact with Avraham, until the burial scene in Gen 25:9. Isaac and Ishmael are understood in Judaism to be the patriarchs, respectively of Judaism and Islam. What a powerful story of reconciliation for the leaders of these two faiths. The commentator in our Etz Hayim Chumash makes this point. It speaks to the ability of people to be in serious conflict and the ability of participants in even the worst conflicts to reconcile.
This spring our congregation will look at how faith traditions can be in conflict or can build bridges to each other. We will host Prof Marc Gopin the weekend of March 28. He is widely respected for his work on transforming conflict and the unigue contribution faith communities can make to that effort.
We hope that on the Sundays before that we will have faith leaders exploring these issues as well. We invite you to join us for this.
We will soon conclude this part of the service with prayers for our country, for Israel and for peace. Before we do we are obligated to honor the memories of those who were murdered in the attack on the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh with hope for healing for all who sustained injuries of any kind as well.
Please rise for the El Maleh – Prayer of Memory p. 336 of Siddur Lev Shalom
Now we turn to p. 177 Prayer for Country,
After Torah service let people know at the conclusion of the service we will remove the special Torah mantle and allow people to take a closer look if they wish.