This past week I reveled in the joy of Shavuot. I imagined myself at Mt. Sinai with every other Jew dancing and celebrating the receiving of the Torah. Here in St. Louis, I participated in the community Shavuot night long celebration. The evening was sponsored by local Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Orthodox shuls. Various learning sessions were taught by members of the St. Louis Jewish community, individuals who were Black, White, Gay, Straight, Cis, and Trans. It was a wondrous snapshot of what the world should and could be. My joy, however, was saddened when I heard the news about Orlando.
I felt numb upon hearing the news. I wasn’t simply numb, I was outraged, angry, and felt truly vulnerable for the first time in my life. I was enraged because that could have been me, my friends, or a loved one. Hours before, I was experienced the profane and humanity at its best, only to be reminded that man is capable of horrible acts of violence against their fellow human being. I spent the next few hours haunted by the notion that no one should be targeted or die because of who they are.
I attended minyan the following morning and found myself running through the tefillot without thinking. My prayers didn’t feel sincere because I was going through the motions and could not concentrate. My rabbi,Rabbi Ari Kaiman, always tells me that one should always insert one’s own prayer in daily davening, only then is our prayer sincere. So, I did just that. I prayed so fervently that I probably looked like a madman. A question popped in my head (perhaps it was the voice of G-d, I don’t know). When prayer isn’t enough, what do you do?
I continued to pray long after the service was over and in a moment of clarity, I had an answer. When prayer isn’t enough, you act. You stand up and speak out. What that looks like, looks differently to different people. For some prayer alone is enough. For other activism is enough.
As a Jew, I believe that I have a responsibility to actively participate in the mitzvah of tikkun olam, the repair of the world. The Torah and our tradition are filled with examples of what to do in these situations. I know what it’s like to be the “other.” I know what it’s like to be targeted for living in my truth. We have a moral imperative to take action when we see this happen and to do all within our power to stop it. When you hear a homophobic or racist comment or joke, speak up! When you see someone treated differently, speak up! Speaking up is not easy, it is not fun, and pushes us out of our comfort zone, but when we speak up for others we acknowledge that what is happening is not right. We acknowledge our shared commonality of humanity. We acknowledge that we are all made in the image of G-d.
Rabbi Danielle Upbin of Clearwater, Florida recently penned a poignant poem in response to the Orlando shooting in which she prays, “G-d above, G-d of peace, Creator of all, bless your inhabitants on Earth to know that violence and bigotry are never truly in Your name.”
My prayer for Orlando and the World is similar to Rabbi Upbin’s prayer.
G-d above, G-d of peace, Creator of all, bless your inhabitants on Earth to know that violence and bigotry are never truly in Your name. Open the eyes of every man, woman, child, to see the humanity in their fellow human being. Give courage and strength to those who speak out against injustice whenever and wherever they encounter it. Give us all the courage and strength to create a world that is more just and equitable for all members of our community. Give us all the conviction to prevent tragedies like this one from ever happening again. When we say “never again,” may we sincerely work towards making those words a reality.
This is my prayer now and forever. I vow to work tirelessly to bring about real change so that people can live in their truth without fear of discrimination, violence, or worse. I am Orlando, you are Orlando, together, we are all Orlando. It is only through prayer and action that we can and will bring about real change.