RSS Feed

Healer of the Broken Hearted

 

We had a solidarity service at my synagogue last Sunday, in the aftermath of the shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Four synagogues came together in one building, and by the time Mom and I arrived, twenty minutes before the service started, there was no parking left. People had to stand along the sides of the sanctuary after all of the seats had been filled. The clergy of all four synagogues led the service, with readings by the rabbis and songs by the cantors. There was an enormous amount of crying, but I couldn’t cry. The music was beautiful. The presence of clergy from all of the local Christian denominations was meaningful (the local mosque was planning another service for the following day). But the words didn’t reach me. I just wanted to find comfort, and to feel something, but I couldn’t feel anything.

Maybe if I could have brought Cricket and Ellie with me, things would have been different; maybe if we didn’t have to feel such a sense of relief at seeing the police officers lined up in front of the synagogue to protect us; maybe if it were just small service, with my fellow congregants, on a Friday night. I don’t know. Maybe if there hadn’t been so much violence leading up to the shootings, with two black shoppers targeted in a supermarket, and pipe bombs in the mail, and church shootings, and terrorist attacks in other countries and in our own. We can barely breathe between horrific events, let alone mourn.

IMG_0570

We’re all exhausted.

I keep swinging between anger, disbelief, fear, and confusion. At the solidarity service at my synagogue, the focus was on taking action against guns, which of course I agree with, but I can’t see that going anywhere now, any more than it has every single time this issue has come up after mass shootings in the past few years. More than a few years now. We can vote, certainly. We can stand in solidarity with the other victims of mass shootings, and against racist and anti-Semitic violence. But then what?

It turns out that one of the three congregations housed in the Tree of Life synagogue was also a Reconstructionist group, and they had celebrated Refugee Shabbat, as we did in my own synagogue, a few weeks ago. The shooter had found a list of the synagogues that participated in Refugee Shabbat, including my own, and that’s where he got the address for the Tree of Life synagogue, and that was the final straw in deciding which Jews to kill.

The subject of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, has come up a number of times lately at my synagogue. There was actually an educational seminar about HIAS planned for Sunday. And then Saturday came, and a man decided to kill Jews at prayer, supposedly because Jews, through HIAS, are to blame for inviting refugees to “invade” our country. To be clear, HIAS does not choose who comes into the country, it works with the state department, along with many other organizations, to help new immigrants integrate into their new communities. If I had to leave my own country and seek safety elsewhere, I would like to believe that there would be an organization like HIAS there, to help me settle in and feel welcome.

One of the songs from the Solidarity Service on Sunday at my synagogue was “Healer of the Broken Hearted,” or in Hebrew, Harofei lishvurei lev. According to my rabbi, the image of a doctor in the Hebrew Bible always refers to God, mostly because every heroic role in the Hebrew Bible belongs to God, the ultimate multiple personality. But this is the image of God that I like best: the comforter, the healer, the one who sees that we are suffering and takes our pain seriously.

Healer of the broken hearted

            Binder of our wounds

            Counter of uncountable stars

            You know who we are

            Hallelujah.”

 

This week has felt strange: fragmented and confusing. I wanted to be at Synagogue, and I wanted to hide away at home. I needed to watch the news, and I hated to watch the news. And then there was a hashtag encouraging everyone, Jews and non-Jews, to come to Shabbat services. This week’s Friday night service at my synagogue was going to be a Family Service (kid-friendly, loud, and short), but I decided to go anyway. The sanctuary was packed again, and the music was great again, and the neighboring churches sent their clergy to add their words of support again, but it was more than that.

Maybe it was because a few more days had passed since the shootings, or because all of the children in the room changed the atmosphere in the room to something like joy. There was one little girl doing interpretive dance (including cartwheels and high kicks) down the far left aisle, and the five member kids’ choir remembered most of their songs, and the Bat Mitzvah girl ignored the tragedy in the air to celebrate her special day with her family. It didn’t hurt that there was cake after the service, with pink cupcakes and chocolate covered pretzels and an enormous amount of chocolate frosting.

IMG_0554

“Frosting?”

 

But, in the end, it’s always the music. On Friday nights at my synagogue we often exchange one of the traditional prayers (Ahavat Olam) for an alternative version, written by Rami Shapiro:

We are loved by an unending love.
We are embraced by arms that find us
even when we are hidden from ourselves.

We are touched by fingers that soothe us
even when we are too proud for soothing.
We are counseled by voices that guide us
even when we are too embittered to hear.
We are loved by an unending love.

We are supported by hands that uplift us
even in the midst of a fall.
We are urged on by eyes that meet us
even when we are too weak for meeting.
We are loved by an unending love.

Embraced, touched, soothed, and counseled

ours are the arms, the fingers, the voices;
ours are the hands, the eyes, the smiles;
We are loved by an unending love.

Even if we can’t envision God as the healer of our wounds, we have something more

concrete to rely on: community. We have the power to see each other, and heal each other. Among all of the roles we can play in each other’s lives, this is one of my favorites.

Hallelujah.

 

001

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

111 responses »

  1. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt message, Rachel. Blessings and peace🙏

    Reply
  2. My hearts going out to you and to all of us caught up in the era of hateful rhetoric and acts of violence. We must all come together to resist those who would create chaos among us. I’m so sorry for your community and know that we ( the good people of the world of all religions, colors, genders) stand together and sways will.

    Reply
  3. I am so glad the second service healed in a way the first couldn’t. I smiled at your description of the children’s joy. Thank you for sharing your experience, Rachel.

    Reply
  4. “In the end it’s always the music.” Exactly. As the song we sing at Mass goes “how can I keep from singing?” Peace.

    Reply
  5. Our church back in Mass joined up with other Christian churches so stand in solidarity with a local synagogue. Peace.

    Reply
  6. The lines you quoted at the end can all be associated with dogs, if you will allow the digression to blessed animals in this dreadful time. That’s what they do. And it’s what we must do for each other, as I saw at the moving ceremony at the packed synagogue in Rockland, Maine this week. We must, all of us, help, love, and protect one another. And dogs are allowed to do all of that. So with you at this time. Peace.

    Reply
  7. Thank you, Rachel, for this very beautiful post.

    Reply
  8. Hallelujah and Amen, Rachel. Peace.

    Reply
  9. This post was very touching. And hopeful, too. Thank you, Rachel..

    Reply
  10. This post touched a chord with me because yes, all of us who are reasonable individuals are tired by the constant onslaught of hate in the world. Blessings for gatherings of people to heal, and I’m glad you found that at the family shabbat. 🙂

    Reply
  11. “We have the power to see each other, and heal each other. Among all of the roles we can play in each other’s lives, this is one of my favorites.” Yes!

    Reply
  12. Thank you for this prayer at the end of your post. It is almost s benediction in a way.

    I doubt there is any way to ever make any sense of such blind, abject hatred.

    Reply
  13. The time has come for the entire human race to really look in the mirror and do a honest assessment. Nah, it’ll never happen.

    Reply
  14. Beautiful, Rachel—thank you.

    Reply
  15. As much as we share the love of our dogs, our writing, and our family – we also share the love of sacred music.
    Here’s the first verse of one of my favorite Southern Baptist hymns I used to sing in that time long ago and far away when I was a minister of music:
    “What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms.
    I have blessed peace when my Lord is near, leaning on the everlasting arms…”
    I will weep for you and your mother, your synagogue, your community and for the deeply troubled nation we share tonight. May the peace that passes all understanding be yours.

    Reply
  16. This is really beautiful. As dark as life can be we have to believe in a better world, we have to hope. Without hope the hatred will win.

    Reply
  17. It’s nice to get a reminder that there are people like you in the world.

    Reply
  18. This was a very moving post. I could understand your frustration at the earlier service when you wanted to be comforted by couldn’t feel anything. It is terrible to witness the damage done by hatred and a deranged mind. And it brings to the fore those extreme emotions that you mention, anger, disbelief, fear, and confusion. It’s something of a relief that you have the synagogue where there is the comfort of momentary community. Thank you for sharing the song/prayer of Rami Shapiro. Hearing the expressions coming out of America from far away, it sounds like a case of mass hysteria. But it could be we haven’t grasped the entire context. Sending you and your family my best wishes.

    Reply
  19. I have never been able to make sense of any religion. During my lifetime, and for long before that, it seems to have been the root of much evil and persecution in the world, both east and west. One of the reasons I have always been an atheist, I suspect.
    But I get the ‘community’, the support and mutual comfort. I am happy to read that this came together in the wake of the dreadful shooting.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Reply
  20. Beautiful, personal, heartfelt and heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing and sending you strength from Cape Town.

    Reply
  21. Thank you for this. I was reminded of the healing power of music earlier today watching a clip of Itzhak Perlman, and your concluding statement on community is indeed true. The pictures of your sweet dogs always make me feel better too.

    Reply
  22. Thank you for your thoughtful post. You have a wise head. I was so saddened to hear the news about the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue. But I was pleased to read that children brought something like joy to your Friday service. We can so often learn from our children. Sending love and peace Mxxx

    Reply
  23. Our world can be so devastating at times. 😦
    My thoughts are with you.
    We can only carry on and not let these awful incidents dictate our lives. X

    Reply
  24. The phrase “staying in the warm space” came to mind reading this. “What do you love the most?” energy is what we were taught to tap into during my Quantum Touch Energy healing training. Pure, unconditional love, which our pet family often teaches us about the best, is what we need to take out into the world to help other see what love looks like. Many people in this world have no idea and so they turn to what they know and sadly that is often hate, bigotry and violence. They were taught this. I’m so sorry you and members of the spiritual world you are part of are having to endure this lesser aspect of human nature. Remember, they are broken. It’s easy to pray and love our family and friends, not so much the broken. I have to remind myself about this each day. Love and hugs to you sweet girl.

    Reply
  25. Reblogged this on As I see it and commented:
    Personal stories about what violence like happened in Pittsburgh does to people and communities are not isolated to the point of impact but the radius that spreads from the point of impact. Violence of this magnitude is like the detonation of a bomb or any other form of violence against one, against oneself or the many….it spreads one way or another to us all.
    My comment to Rachel’s post best expresses how I see this:

    “The phrase “staying in the warm space” came to mind reading this. “What do you love the most?” energy is what we were taught to tap into during my Quantum Touch Energy healing training. Pure, unconditional love, which our pet family often teaches us about the best, is what we need to take out into the world to help other see what love looks like. Many people in this world have no idea and so they turn to what they know and sadly that is often hate, bigotry and violence. They were taught this. I’m so sorry you and members of the spiritual world you are part of are having to endure this lesser aspect of human nature. Remember, they are broken. It’s easy to pray and love our family and friends, not so much the broken. I have to remind myself about this each day. Love and hugs to you sweet girl.”

    Reply
  26. What beautiful words! Thank you for sharing…

    Reply
  27. Rachel, thanks for sharing your angst. I loved the quote from Mister Rogers years ago, that shared his mother told him to focus on “the helpers” in times of tragedy. He said that gives us hope. The professionals and volunteers who step up to help reveal the best of us. We saw this in Charleston, in Orlando, in Parkland, in Sandy Hook and we saw it in Pittsburgh. These are horrible tragedies and we must condemn the actions and do something about it. But, we should also glean hope from the helpers. Peace be with you. Keith

    Reply
  28. Thank you for sharing this Rachel. True community is a sanctuary and a place for healing in times like these and the energy the children bring is a beautiful reminder of all that is good in the world 💜 xxx

    Reply
  29. My heartfelt sympathies. Being LDS, I know about persecution for one’s faith, but not on the level the Jewish people know it. Some folks (Christians in particular) forget that Christ was a Jew. In the late 1990s in Utah some brainless ass went into one of our church houses and spray painted graffiti and filth all over the chapel walls, broke statuary, defaced paintings and was deemed mentally ill. Recently the LDS Temples have stepped up their security because of people with ulterior motives trying to get into our holiest places. I mourn for your people. It just degrades us ALL when one idiot with an agenda kills in the name of religion or whatever their motivation is. And people in a church? SHOULD feel SAFE. It’s horribly shocking to everyone when such things occur, whatever the holy place is that people are peacefully worshipping in. Take care of yourself during this time, hug the dogs and just feel the warmth, love and peace they automatically share with us undeserving humans. 😥

    Reply
  30. “We can barely breathe between horrific events, let alone mourn.”

    Reply
  31. Last week’s events are so horrific. Please know we stand with you and your congregation in spirit (as we can’t be there in person) solidarity along with everyone else who supports HIAS.

    Reply
  32. The synagogue shooting was a tragedy. We are all struggling to come to terms w/ it. ❤

    Reply
  33. so sad…. it broke my heart 🌾

    Reply
  34. I attended two services/vigils last week, and mourned in between them and after them for all the sorrows you mention and for illnesses and injuries in my community. It has been emotionally exhausting.

    “But, in the end, it’s always the music.” Yes. Somehow, music expresses what our heart carries, and softens the jagged edges.

    Reply
  35. So beautiful. It made my heart hurt, but in a good way, for a change. I don’t mean that there’s anything good about the pain of the shooting, or your grief, but you remind us of hope. We are His hands, fingers and voices. That’s good to remember.

    Reply
  36. Rachel, this is my favorite of your posts. It is heartfelt, tender, hopeful. It echoes my own doubts about our country and the hate that has found a home here. I love Rabbi Shapiro’s poem. Thank you for sharing. I hope you in prayer.

    Reply
  37. Reblogged this on Madeline Bialecki and commented:
    This piece expresses so much of what I have been feeling.

    Reply
  38. Your piece is beautiful and inspiring. Rabbi Shapiro’s poetry elegant. It is a time for mourning, but when the mourning is over we need to come together with persistence to end the mindless hate.

    Reply
  39. This evil trying to divide us saddens me deeply. Thank you for sharing your healing prayers. Peace.

    Reply
  40. Beautiful post. Thank you! ❤

    Reply
  41. Rachel you are such a wonderful chronicler of life. I grew up in an area with lots of Jewish people and had many friends among them but there are none near me now, so it was you I first thought of when I heard the news. It is so sad that so many think violence is the answer when it never has been. If only we could be united in joy instead of sorrow as so many have. I am glad the children brought some to your service.

    Reply
  42. This was a beautiful post, Rachel. My heart goes out to you and the hurt you must be feeling. I look forward to the day we just love each other as fellow human beings. God bless you and give you peace I pray.

    Reply
  43. I am behind on my reading, among other things, and just saw your post this morning. It was after the news about the mass shooting in the California nightclub. Your words are comforting, reminding us that God is in control and He will prevail over evil. May God bless you and keep you safe Rachel.

    Reply
  44. Thank you for sharing. It has been devastating the past couple weeks with all the violence going around us. On a side note, cute dogs!

    Reply
  45. Rachel. I grew up in Greensburg, just outside Pittsburgh. I left many years ago, but that has always been Home. My heart aches for Pittsburgh and all of the people affected by that horrific act of hate. I could not believe that could or would happen in Pittsburgh–the city I have always loved. I am so sorry that you and your community have had to go through all of this. There are no words I can write that can take away the pain. Thank you for sharing. I pray that you and this wonderful community can heal with time.

    Reply
  46. Thank you for sharing such deep emotions, I hope peace comes to you endlessly in this time of turmoil.

    Reply
  47. I had tears in my eyes as I listened to the news of the shooting. And I also had tears in my eyes when I read your beautiful words. Thank you, Rachael

    Reply
  48. Beautifully said. I pray never to see stories like this on the news again. Please God.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: