The Response to Fear is to Interfere

Last weekend in Olympia was an interfaith vigil on gun violence. I was asked to give the closing words, here is what I shared:

We are reminded, especially after this week, that we are living in a time of fear.

We live in fear of violence that the accessibility of guns can bring,

And we live in fear that violence is seen as an appropriate expression of disagreement or dissent.

We live in fear that our leadership can not do what is necessary to keep us safe,

And we live in fear that our leaders want to do what is easy, not what is just.

We live in fear that individual rights are seen as absolute, while communal concern is seen as not a priority,

And we live in fear that individuals are rightfully held accountable for their crimes without an examination of the larger systems which support them.

We live in fear.

But we don’t have to.

Rebbe Nachman of Bratslov famously said, “The world is a very narrow bridge, the essence is not to fear.” The world is a fraught place, but we do not need to fear, because we can act.

The response to fear is to interfere.

Today is Shabbat, the sacred day of rest. In the Jewish tradition we read a section of the sacred Scripture—the Torah—each week on Shabbat in order, beginning with Genesis in the fall and continuing through the year. Today we are in the middle of Leviticus, in a portion called “Kedoshim”—holiness. The Holiness Code. It is a portion that gives us some of our most powerful ethical imperatives. Ways to be holy as God is holy. We are told, in this week’s reading, that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. And indeed we must.

But we are also told, in the verse immediately prior, that “you must not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor.”

And indeed we must not.

We will not stand idly by the blood of Newtown, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Oak Creek or Tucson.

We will not stand idly by the blood of the thousands upon thousands of victims who die each year by a bullet.

We will not stand idly by the blood of the victim of domestic violence, who suffers more because there is a gun in the house.

We will not stand idly by the blood of one of God’s children, who in a moment of despair makes the ultimate decision because there is a gun readily accessible.

We will not stand idly by the blood of one person whose death could have been avoided by more just, more compassionate, more reasonable gun laws.

We will not fear, we will interfere.

We will interfere with our elected officials, our community leaders, our fellow citizens.

We will interfere with our prayers and our protests.

We will interfere.

So let us move from a place of fear to a place of action, a place of sadness to a place of hope.

And may our steps be firm, our spirits strong and our vision clear.



After Death, After Boston

This week’s Torah portion in our weekly cycle is Acharei Mot, which means “after death.” The death referred to is that of the sons of Aaron, priests like their father and nephews to Moses, who make a mistake in the sacrificial offerings and are incinerated by God in the process. The text describes Aaron silent in the face of this destruction and loss, and other priests swiftly moving in to clean up and tend to the dead. (The narrative of the death takes place a few chapters prior to this week’s portion.)

We feel the same way “acharei mot”–after death, after Boston. The news out of Boston this week was terrible, just terrible. The death of three, including a child, the loss of limbs by many, the sense of security and trust shattered hits deep at our core. We watch in silence as others move in to clean and investigate.

But we are all impacted by these events. On the one hand, it is because we turn inward and see our own vulnerabilities. We imagine the places we have been, exercising our right of freedom of assembly, only to have it disrupted by terror. With ArtsWalk looming on the Olympia horizon, I’m sure many of our thoughts turn to that spectacular event, and the risks associated now with gathering in such a public, and vulnerable, space.

On the other hand it is because we share a common bond with those thousands of miles away. Not all of us are runners, who find meaning in the achievement and solidarity in running a marathon and being with the community of runners. Not all of us have ties to Boston, or Massachusetts, who are oriented to the celebration of Patriots’ Day, a day set aside in that state to mark the battle of Lexington and Concord and the start of the American Revolution. But we are a part of the same greater (American) community, committed to the same values, inheritors of the same history, living under the same tent.

The same feeling is what connects us as Jews to what happens in the State of Israel. The bombings in Boston occurred during the “High Holidays” of civil Israeli society–Yom Hazikaron, memorial day for fallen soldiers, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day, this year marking 65 years since the founding of the nation.

We all know that discussing Israel is sometimes difficult, that we in this community have differing opinions about Israel’s future direction. But we can not dispute one fact, that all of us do have different opinions and struggle how to talk about Israel at times because we have a connection to what happens there. That we, as Jews, are part of the worldwide Jewish community, and thus committed to the same values, inheritors of the same history and living under the same tent to Jews everywhere.

Which is why an attack in Boston is an attack on us. Which is why (to cite one example) a struggle to make the Western Wall in Jerusalem more open to egalitarian prayer is our struggle. We are a part of the greater whole. And moving beyond, we remember that we are connected to all humanity. There is no “over there.” There is only “over here.”

Earlier this week we found glimmers of hope in those who ran towards the scene as opposed to away from it (though we can all sympathize with the latter, can’t we?), in those who reached out to help others and carry them to safety, to the doctors who made difficult decisions, to the first responders who are always there in times of crisis.

Let us remember that hope.

The day of the Marathon, Patriots’ Day, is a day of hope–the hope that a struggle against a tyrannical power would result in a new reality based on values not power, based on individual rights and communal responsibility. Let us remember that hope.

Yom Ha’atzmaut is a day of hope–the hope that an oppressed people, traumatized by history, can find peace, recognition, an end to conflict and the realization of future potential. Let us remember that hope.

Let us remember the hope. Let us remember the hope and abide by it, so that the hope of the aftermath of the bombings, the hope of Patriots’ Day, the hope of Yom Ha’atzma’ut can continue to guide our lives and be extended to all.

The parasha that follows Acharei Mot is Kodashim (“holiness”). After death, after Boston, must come the renewed commitment to manifest holiness in our world.