September 23, 2019

A Prayer for American Judaism

“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.”

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