Triggers and Twisters

Earlier this week, the first anniversary of the catastrophe of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh where 11 innocent lives were snuffed out and 7 sustained injuries ought to have resonated more deeply with Jews of Dallas than with Jews anywhere else in this world. With last week’s tornado touching down and wreaking havoc in various neighborhoods in the city, particularly the neighborhood surrounding Tiferet, those who witnessed devastation and those who suffered devastation would do well to consider the following.

The catastrophe at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last year occurred because the assailant specifically targeted Jews. Armed with a semi-automatic rifle and three handguns, Robert Bowers set out to murder Jews. Neither worshipers at any church or the faithful at any mosque were in his cross hairs. It’s highly doubtful, that it would have mattered to the murderer, if the site he chose to attack was a Reform Temple, a Conservative Synagogue, an Orthodox Shul or a Chabad House. Unlike so many of us, anti-Semites rarely distinguish or differentiate. In their eyes, one Jew is as worthless and as expendable as another.

Not so, last week’s tornado. Other than zeroing in on specific neighborhoods, it made no difference to the tornado, whether its victims were Jew or Christian,  Hindu or Moslem or any other group. Similarly, it mattered not to the tornado whether it destroyed a business or a private home, a nursery school or a senior living residence. One could perhaps even argue that not only were neighborhoods chosen at random, but homes and buildings were either hit or missed in the most haphazard of ways. One house sustained severe damage, while the house right next to it, was minimally affected. Put differently, the destruction in Pittsburgh came about, because they were Jews; the destruction in Dallas came about, (thankfully and miraculously) just because.

Pittsburgh was yet another example of human cruelty. One can argue whether such attacks are perpetrated as copycat crimes; one can take a stance either for or against gun control. All will agree however, that what took place in Pittsburgh was the result of man’s inhumanity against man.  Driven by unrestrained hatred anger and intolerance, the assailant in his twisted mind, made a concerted effort to improve society by snuffing out the lives of Jews, whose only “crime” was attending Shabbat services at a synagogue.

The Dallas tornado was the exact opposite. I believe that the insurance companies are spot on when they categorize tornadoes and hurricanes, floods and wildfires as acts of G-d. With Yom Kippur a mere three weeks behind us, let us recall a medieval acrostic (among the many ark openings prior to Kedusha) where each stanza begins with the words “Ma’aseh Elohim” or “it is the work of HaShem.” A tornado is no different. It too, is Ma’aseh Elohim. As such, tornadoes not only defy understanding and explanation as to why they occurred, but they serve as reminders that human ingenuity and strength are laughable, or perhaps better stated lamentable.

Last but in no way least,  our response to Pittsburgh and our response to the tornado revealed a great deal about us. From coast to coast, synagogues as well as other Jewish buildings in this country have adopted strict security measures. The synagogue I attended last week had a parked police vehicle replete with flashing lights, two uniformed officers, as well as plain clothed security, standing at the door of the building. Congregants insisted on feeling secure and knowing that they are secure as they offered up prayers that pretty much indicated that they placed their faith in HaShem.

Human response to last week’s tornado, as well as other acts of G-d, evokes a far different response. We rebuild and continue as before, with an implicit resolve that no act of G-d is going to change or interrupt the way we live. Perhaps, we humans have greater faith in HaShem than in our fellow man; perhaps we humans fear our fellow man more than we fear HaShem. Perhaps the words of the prayer prior to removing the Torah from the ark say it best: “Not in any human do I put trust … only in the G-d of heaven.” Something to think about.

A SMILE ON HASHEM’S FACE

Unknowingly, those of us in Dallas County are responsible for a one of a kind Father’s Day gift, that is both memorable and priceless. Last Sunday’s microburst afforded us the opportunity to present our heavenly father with a Father’s Day gift that will surely bring a smile to His heart.

For those of us living in Dallas, it took hours of a massive power outage for us to realize how dependent our lives on electricity. Food started going bad because our refrigerators and freezers were cut off from electricity, our homes began to take on heat and humidity, now that they were no longer thermostatically controlled, because our air conditioners ceased to function, our cell phones could no longer receive their daily electrical charge and fuel for our vehicles remained trapped in the underground storage tanks at gas stations, because electrically controlled pumps had gone dead. Imagine if you will, that instead of being painfully reminded of how dependent we have become on electricity, we suddenly realized how very dependent we are on HaShem. Plug in the digestive system instead of refrigerators and freezers, replace air conditioning with a properly functioning heart, substitute kidneys for cell phones and hearts for gas pumps, and one hopefully realizes that how totally dependent we are on HaShem. If we take our life style for granted, only to be reminded how very grateful  and beholden we ought to be to our electric provider, then how much more so ought we, who take the daily functioning of our bodies for granted, be grateful and beholden to HaShem, provider of life! Give the next utility truck you see  a thumbs up and put a smile on the face of those inside; offer up a prayer of gratitude to HaShem and put a smile on His face as well.

The early part of this week, reinforced my faith in the human race, at least those living in western culture.  When confronted by crisis, humans go out of their way to help humans, even total strangers. A little over four decades ago, New York City was paralyzed by a blizzard of epic proportions. A pregnant woman living in a neighborhood in Queens was dangerously close to going into labor. Knowing that they could not count on snowplows to respond some two-dozen able bodied men showed up with snow shovel in hand and began to clear a path for the family car to make it to a major roadway that led to the hospital. A few days ago, I witnessed similar outpouring of care and concern, as strangers were there with chain saws to help others out of harm’s way, when fallen trees were leaning on power lines leading into homes, when trees fell onto cars parked in driveways and when fallen trees completely blocked entrances to homes. What I was unable to witness, but knew in my heart, were any number of situations, where those with electricity offered freezer and refrigerator space and even lodging to others who were left without electricity. As one who firmly maintains that nothing escapes HaShem’s notice, I have every reason to believe that these many acts of kindness, care and concern put a smile on HaShem’s face as well.

It is said that there is a silver lining for every cloud. Here at Tiferet, last Monday morning, the lining was platinum. Shavuot festival services were held in the parking lot, rather than in the darkened chapel, because sunlight afforded those in attendance the ability to read from the siddur. Conservatively speaking, there were at least fifty in attendance, as we raised our voices in prayer. Given the comfortable temperatures, along with a most pleasant breeze, many in attendance were able to experience being closer to HaShem, not unlike our ancestors who stood at Mount Sinai. There were even those who suggested that we consider holding services outside again sometime, independent of any power outage.

Personally speaking, Yizkor services took on special meaning. Typically, the term “Yizkor” is a request that HaShem remember the souls of the departed, whom we have come to memorialize. But “Yizkor” can also mean: “He will remember.”  I cannot help but feel that HaShem will long remember the three-fold Father’s Day gift of our realizing how dependent we are upon Him, of kindness, concern and kindness shown toward others and the most beautiful sight of us davening in Tiferet’s parking lot. And each time HaShem remembers this three-fold Father’s Day gift, it will bring a smile to His face.

THE DEATHS OF THOSE WHO SERVE HIT A NERVE

In the aftermath of last week’s carnage, the city of Dallas immediately responded with a vigil held at Thanksgiving Square at noon on Friday. Over the weekend, any number of clergy in the city held special prayer services at their respective congregations. Kol HaKavod! G-d bless them! As one who has participated and even hosted similar events over the years, I cannot help but feel that as necessary as these vigils and services are, that such gatherings are as much for the average Dallas resident, parishioner and congregant as they are for the victims and their families. Having never met those whose lives were snuffed out last Thursday or those in the hospital either fighting for their lives or on the road to recovery, we feel helpless. In addition to making a statement to the families that we are aware of their sorrow, in addition to reminding society that carnage and mayhem will be met with neither indifference nor silence on our parts, we feel the need to do something. We show solidarity.
Solidarity, real solidarity must not in any way be limited to attending a vigil or prayer service. For those of us who’s hearts truly go out to the families of Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa, why not try to find out more find out the bereft parents and siblings as well as the widows, widowers and orphans left behind? Perhaps funds have been established to which contributions can be made. If you are not a fund person, then perhaps you can adopt a family. After the initial shock wears off and the survivors attempt to return to normal everyday living, why not send a card, drop a note or write a letter? As much as a “mitzvah” as it is to be present at a vigil or to attend a memorial service, it’s an even “bigger mitzvah” to reach out to the stricken families after they have become yesterday’s or last month’s news. A note to bereaved family members from a complete stranger thanking them for sharing their loved one, so that he/she could protect the residents of this city quite often means more than you can imagine.
For those who are react “Jewishly” and go into “pay a Shivah call mode” there’s no reason why you can’t convert a Shivah platter into an invitation to a Thanksgiving dinner, assuming the family is pretty much all alone. Better yet, let Tiferet share in your mitzvah. Anyone who brings family of stricken Dallas Police Force officers to one of our many Shabbat dinners throughout the year does so compliments of Tiferet. Just get them here and the meal for both host and guest is on us!
As Jews, we have a unique role. We can reach out to the family and tell them that even though we cannot in any way fathom their distress, much less feel their pain, we do share something in common. Because of our history, we know what it is like to lose our loved ones for no other reason that they were Jews. To those who have lost loved ones for no other reason than they were police officers, please know that you are not alone and that we have a hug waiting for you.