I was asked by a student to respond to the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that took place on Saturday, October 27, 2018. I know my response will be inadequate and yet I accepted this responsibility because I feel a deep connection to the Jewish people. The morning the shootings took place, I was reading from the Siddur, the Jewish prayer book prayed in Synagogues on the Sabbath. This prayer book was given to me by Rabbi Edelstein as a gift and I treasure it. One reason I treasure it is because I treasure Rabbi Edelstein. I have had the privilege of teaching a course with him called Catholic Jewish Dialogue. Through our dialogue, I have been ushered more deeply into the richness of the Jewish tradition. A saying in the Siddur reads, “A religion is best known by the lives that express it.” Rabbi Edelstein and the Jewish people I have met at Temple David live their faith in a way that is inspiring, rich, and meaningful. When I am with them, I feel close to God.
When I learned of the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue, my heart sank. I remembered that during one of our classes, Rabbi Edelstein said that whenever there is tension and discord in society, Jews get nervous. I also noticed throughout the day Saturday that when Pittsburgh rabbis were asked about the shootings, they all indicated that even before this shooting occurred, they had been worried and had thought about the possibility of something like this mass shooting occurring. It would be impossible to express how sad it makes me that people who have dedicated their lives to living for God have to worry that their dedication might become a provocation for violence. It doesn’t make any sense. It will never make any sense.
I wish I knew the way forward. I don’t. Nevertheless, I have committed myself to some actions. I will continue to pray the prayers in the Siddur, continue to recognize the Jews as my brothers and sisters in faith, and to allow my life to be shaped by their witness to God. I am committed to turning down the volume of anger in all forms of speech. I want to listen more, to hear what others have to say without so rapidly asserting my own opinion, to recognize that there must be a better way forward, and to believe that if we are all willing to listen more to others perhaps we might find that way together. I sometimes wish that we could impose a time of silence before we begin our analysis of events and responses to events. Only after a period of silence and prayer can we find a way to newness.
Though I am shattered by the loss of beautiful, faithful, worshipping lives at the Tree of Life Synagogue, I remain hopeful. I am writing this for a college newspaper and college students are the energy and the way forward toward change. On the first day of Catholic Jewish dialogue, Rabbi Edelstein asks the class to remember this quote from Martin Buber, “We are created along with one another and directed to a life with one another. Creatures are put in my way so that I, their fellow creature by means of them and with them, find the way to God.” My prayer is that all of you will commit your lives and open your hearts to deep listening and healing dialogue.