Note: While finishing this piece, the news broke about Dallas. Below is a reflection on an incident from less than a month ago. There is too much gun violence and tragedy to thoughtfully and fully take it all in.
I want to start a shiva group in LA. It's depressingly realistic that there will be many more victims of shootings just in LA, let alone across the country. It's imperative that we come together. We need to recognize the suffering and grieving of people in our community, in our zip codes and across the country. Black Lives Matter. Lives Matter. People are suffering and disadvantaged, and it's the responsibility of the privileged to speak up.
It's a Sunday in June. In a Washington, D.C. neighborhood, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld is leaving his house to walk to Temple Ohev Shalom for the holiday Shavuot. On his way out, his neighbor asks if he's heard about what happened last night in Orlando. Jews don't use electronics during holidays so he hadn't.
From the NPR interview:
MARTIN: The news hit him hard. So Rabbi Herzfeld decided to ask members of his congregation to go with him to a local gay bar as a gesture of support. He compared it to sitting Shiva, a Jewish tradition.
HERZFELD: During Shiva, the mourners sit and other people come and embrace the mourners. And the point is, not that the people who are visiting have answers or a way of removing the pain that people are feeling, but just a way of connecting and saying, we are with you together.
MARTIN: A way of saying we share your pain and our lives are not going on as normal, he told us. But for the rabbi, going to a gay bar - or any bar for that matter - was not a normal experience.
HERZFELD: It was a little intimidating for me. I really don't remember the last time I was in a bar. I think it was right after I graduated high school.
MARTIN: But as is so often the case, mom came through.
HERZFELD: I was lucky that my mother was with me. My mother, being a woman of tremendous soul - she saw a person, and she just went up to this man and told him why we were there. And he broke down in tears, and he said my cousin was murdered in Orlando. And the next thing I knew, my mother was embracing this total stranger.
MARTIN: The man invited the rabbi and congregation inside where they were warmly welcomed.
HERZFELD: The bartender was nice enough to shut the music for a while, and then we all put our arms around each other and prayed for the families of the deceased.
MARTIN: The group then moved to Dupont Circle, a famous D.C. landmark, where other mourners had gathered.
HERZFELD: And we had embraced people who are strangers to us, and we joined together in singing a song "How Goodly And How Beautiful." When a tribe worked all together in peace, when the whole world will come together as an act of unity, that's a beautiful thing. And that's the small thing that we were trying to do.
We will grieve together and we will fight together.
Listen to the NPR story with the rabbi.