This morning I named a baby, a beautiful little girl welcomed with deep joy into her family and community. It was a simple rabbinic moment. Working with my Cantor I spoke of covenant and history, read the appropriate prayers, blessed the child. She cooed and fussed a bit, squirmed in her parents arms, happily slurped some sweet wine, the taste of which made her suddenly widen her eyes.
It is the very day after one of the greatest tragedies in American Jewish history. Eleven dead in a synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. There is much to do. Emails are flying through the community, phone calls are coming in, plans are being made for various memorial services and vigils, and an upcoming communal Shabbat of solidarity. There are security questions to be weighed and considered. But what could be more important than naming a baby? What could be more meaningful than bringing a new child into the community, what could be more significant than giving her a Hebrew name? Am Yisrael Chai! we sing – the Jewish people live! There is no greater proof of that than the little baby I held in my arms today.
What kind of world will she grow up in? Will it be safe? Tolerant? Will it be kind and gentle? It must be. It is our responsibility to make that world into a reality, to build our communities and cultures so one day children will not know of hatred and prejudice, of violence or despair. It is our responsibility to value kindness and trust, love and joy, determination and courage, and hope. To espouse ideas of inclusion and peace, of tolerance and diversity, for all people in all places at all times.
Darkness will always give way to light. Of this I am convinced. The very existence of the Jewish people makes this clear, our thousands of years of history all too often scarred by cruelty, hatred, and violence. And yet generation after generation we sing and celebrate, we name our children and bring them into the ancient covenant between God and Israel, we escort our brides and grooms to the huppah when they marry. Our elders speak of sweet kugels and warm memories of faith and family. Our children celebrate b’nai mitzvahs ceremonies, surrounded by family and friends. We go to shul, we learn, we pray, we grow. We do live – with vibrancy and faith and loyalty to our people and our God. Am Yisrael Chai!
The Psalmist writes that God is ‘the healer of shattered hearts, and the binder of wounds.’ We must be and do the same. We must work to heal the hearts we know are broken, to bind the wounds that must be mended, to tend to those who need our help, and in doing so, to push back the darkness and the hate and the fear. We can do it together, as communities and families, as congregations and organizations, as Jews.