Thirty days. It was just thirty days ago that everything seemingly changed for the Jewish community of Western Pennsylvania. A shooting at a synagogue, motivated by vile and hateful anti-Semitism, upended our world and forced its way into our lives. It shocked us because it was awful and violent. It shocked us because it was personal - everyone in this part of the world has connections through family and friends to Squirrel Hill. It shocked us because it happened to a group of people identical to ourselves: Conservative Jews, almost all of them over 65 years old, in a shul in Pennsylvania, showing up early on a Saturday morning to make a minyan.
Thirty days ago, the families of the victims buried their dead. They have emerged from Shiva, the seven day mourning period in which direct relatives stay in a cocoon at home in order to process their pain. And now they reach Shloshim ('thirty'), the marker that signifies a shift away from some of the formal mourning practices and into a more regular hum of life. Hair is cut. Beards are shaved. Mirrors are uncovered. Weddings and Bnei mitzvahs can be attended. Although we continue to say Kaddish for direct relatives, we get up from mourning.
What does it mean though? Are we ready? We have processed the grief. We certainly still have unresolved emotions, and questions. We are still hurt and angry and confused. We aren't sure how to protect ourselves, or how to take meaningful action to address the issues. The affected synagogues are still in diasporadic wandering away from their home synagogue. And they do not even begin to know what effect the shooting will have on their community's identity. The murderers trial is far from its beginning, and we have yet to have the next very hard conversation - what should his fate be? What does our tradition think should be done to punish him justly?
Shloshim is a marker on a long road, but it offers little in the way of resolution. It means we emerge from a fog of emotional suffering and begin a long road towards clarity.
Thirty days have passed and we seek something. We pray that God and our community will serve to steady us on the hard road ahead, and that we may be able to steady others as they seek comfort, wisdom, and strength. And in the words of Psalm 119, let Torah be a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path, to guide the way forward out of the darkness.
- Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman
Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman is the spiritual leader of Brith Sholom Jewish Center in Erie, PA. These are a collection of thoughts and writings since he joined the community in Erie. For more of his past writings, click here.