January 18, 2019

My Shabbat March

Shabbat ha-Gadol means the Great Shabbat, and for me, this past Shabbat was truly great.

Many shomer Shabbat teens wanted to take part in the Washington, D.C., March for Our Lives. So they organized a full program and arranged for home hospitality for the many guests.

Last Friday night, I joined the teens for Shabbat dinner. The following morning, they led a special youth service. I was called to the Torah and honored with the reading of the haftarah. I was deeply moved when I came to the final verse: “Ve-heishiv Lev Avot al Banim: The hearts of the parents will turn toward their children (Malachi 3:24).

After services, we began our 7-mile trek to the march. Although large parts of Washington are covered by an eruv, there is a gap of around 10 blocks that is not covered. The teens suggested we connect with a church that might be able to help us and allow us to store our food. Rev. Thomas Bowen of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office connected us with Rev. Darryl Roberts of the 19th Street Baptist Church.

When we arrived at the church, many of its members came out to greet us.  Rev. Roberts and I embraced and we discovered that we live four houses apart. I know that we will develop a close friendship moving forward.

I felt that every step we took was a mitzvah and a sanctification.

Our synagogue community gathered on the steps of the church with other local churches and we shared powerful words of reflection, prayer and song, led by the children of our respective communities. One of our members told Rev. Roberts that the church was formerly a synagogue and his grandfather had been the rabbi. The church has retained the Stars of David throughout the building as a way of demonstrating respect for the builders of the community. I felt the spirituality of yet another connection with this very special community.

Rev. Roberts and I walked together for the next 3 miles toward the march and bonded over a shared passion to serve as religious leaders. There is so much darkness that has come to the world as a result of gun violence, but if two communities and a rabbi and a pastor can come together, it represents a brighter path for the future.

I don’t remember exactly which speaker made me cry at the rally, but tears ran down my face multiple times. The most moving moment was watching Samantha Fuentes, one of the Parkland shooting survivors, excuse herself to throw up onstage.   But as the crowd cheered her on, she immediately bounced back and continued her speech. I felt inspired by her dedication and commitment to never give up.

Following the march, we gathered at a local building for snacks. J. David Cox, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, arranged for us to have a room to hold afternoon prayers and Torah study, and he took part in our study session. The topic was “Pesach and Civil Disobedience.” The teens spoke passionately about the need to raise a voice when there is an unjust law. I felt inspired to be in the presence of such an amazing group of teens. I know now, more than ever, that our future is bright.

The Shabbat ha-Gadol Torah portion speaks of how Moshe had to place the blood of an offering on the toe of his brother, Aaron, the Kohen Hagadol (High Priest). One of the teens, Coby Melkin, said this was to show that true service of God sometimes requires walking to do a mitzvah. I felt that every step we took was a mitzvah and a sanctification of the far too many souls who have been brutally murdered as a result of gun violence.

The grim statistics about gun violence are scary and depressing. But I left this Shabbat ha-Gadol excited and inspired. We have a new day in D.C. The parents are turning toward the children. The future is bright.

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld is the rabbi of Ohev Sholom — The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C.