Religious Freedom and Mass Murder
It's been a long week, and it's only Tuesday. (or Wednesday.) Two stories about the mass murder in Squirrel Hill, PA this Saturday.
The Pittsburgh synagogue killings show that dormant hatreds have reawakened
Staff writer for The Atlantic
"When Rabbi Joseph Miller learned of the Squirrel Hill massacre, less than a mile from his own pulpit, he ordered the doors of his synagogue locked. Despite his congregants’ terror that they would be next, they recited the mi sheberach. They didn’t pray for their own protection; they prayed for the healing of others.
"An ancestor of mine died in synagogue. He lived in western Ukraine, where the Holocaust arrived suddenly in the form of Einsatzgruppen, death squads pushing ever east, traversing dirt roads and deep forest to cleanse even the most remote villages of Jews. When the Nazis arrived in his town, my great-great-grandfather was deep in prayer at the synagogue. The Nazis locked the doors of the small wooden structure and then set it aflame. It is a story that cannot be unheard. When I stand in my synagogue and my mind meanders, I often wonder what he prayed at that moment.
"The Sabbath is a rupture in the architecture of time, a day set apart. For those who practice the ritual, it is a moment of disconnection from the week—a temporal void that is supposed to be kept clear of work, technology, and concern for material things. The Sabbath has evolved, by design, to be a moment of vulnerability, where secular armor is placed in the spiritual locker, permitting connection with God."
Jewish tradition teaches that bodies cannot be left alone. The community has come together to guard the victims of Saturday’s shooting.
"Under other circumstances, Daniel Leger might be among those making sure the 11 Jews who were murdered in Pittsburgh are cared for in death. He is the leader of Pittsburgh’s liberal chevre kadisha—the committee responsible for tending to and preparing bodies before burial. Instead, he is in the hospital. He is one of the two congregants and four police officers who were injured in this week’s horrific attack.
"The Pittsburgh morgue sits in a squat cement building on a street with little light, sandwiched between a bar and a highway. The door was locked and the lobby quiet on Sunday evening; few people were out in the chilly, intermittent rain. A sign on the door instructed visitors to use a nearby phone to reach the security desk. Throughout the night, someone new would be arriving each hour. They were the shomrim, or guards.
"Jewish tradition teaches that the dead cannot be left alone. Some call it a sign of respect for people in death, as in life. Others say that the soul, or nefesh, is connected to the body until it is buried, or even for days afterward, and people must be present as it completes its transition into the next world."
I'm Pagan; I've never let myself get worked up about "The Burning Times" but at the same time, I've done interfaith work for almost ten years now, because I know what could happen if times get bad. I consciously do interfaith work to make a place for area Pagans. No drama, right? No rescue my peeps fantasies... I just show up. I'm here. There are more of me scattered around the community. You won't particularly see them, but we are here, and if times get bad, we are vulnerable.
This congregation lost 11 elders in one blow. One was a Holocaust survivor. I think others had lost family in the Holocaust. They were the backbone of their religious community. I remember back at the turn of the millennium when I was attending a Universalist Unitarian service, something went wrong with the microphone or the A/C or something, and one of the old guys in the pews jumped up and disappeared into the back room. And the minister leaned on the pulpit and said, "You can always tell who the elders are in the congregation, because when something blows out, one of them jumps up without being asked and goes off to fix it." And here's this congregation who, suddenly, don't have enough people to properly tend their dead. And there's this congregation down the road, who locked themselves in and went on praying. Oh, and by the way, this was the week with multiple bomb threats around the country. The KKK loved bombing black churches. What if somebody wants to throw a bomb at us? Just to switch it up a bit...Oh, and hey, The Donald is saying if you were born in the U.S. but your parents were immigrants, he is going to take back your citizenship? How is a minority (with a long history of persecution) supposed to deal with the shell shock?
And what happens if somebody notices us little ole Pagans?