Joys & Sorrows
Kohelet [Ecclesiastes]: ". . . In your days of good fortune by joyful, and in your days of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other, and a person cannot know what lies in store ."
Father and Son by Ben Shahn
by Toby Hunter Dec. 2018
On November 2, the first Shabbat after the massacre of 11 Jewish people in Pittsburg, I had the honor of helping to lead our Friday night services, along with a wonderful team of our congregants. I will admit to some anxiety during the week leading to the service, with many emails back and forth about what we might expect when we arrived at Temple.
People began to arrive at 6:15 pm. The first was a non-Jewish woman who said she felt driven to be with us. The second was someone from the Quaker Meeting House adjacent to our property. She said that a group had organized to come and hold signs in solidarity, reading "Love Thy Neighbor". They stationed themselves on the sidewalk outside our building. By the time the service started, there were approximately 80 people in attendance, many of them families with young children. This is more than double a typical Shabbat.
Throughout the service, the mood of the congregation was subdued. Many words from the prayer book resonated much more powerfully than usual. Afterwards, there were lots of hugs, tears and handshakes, a sign of the resilience of our community in the face of tragedy. It was a heartwarming, albeit melancholy, mood as people ate, talked and cried.
Throughout the evening and the next few days, I thought about what made this Shabbat feel so special to me. First and foremost was the outpouring of support, both from our own community and from the larger Gainesville community. It was truly special to feel the love of people who we might not have met otherwise. My second wave of reflections centered on the larger-than-average attendance of our congregants, many of them with their children.
Shabbat services are the lifeline of every Jewish congregation. It is the time when people gather to pray, visit and eat together. It is a time of coming together in solidarity, regardless of what is happening in the world. I completely understand why so many people decided to come on this night, and now that they did, I hope they will continue.
Please come back and participate with us again. Please know that every one of the children behaved appropriately—some slept, but most participated in the prayers. All of them were embraced in the arms of their parents for most of the service.
Our services at Temple Shir Shalom are for everyone. Combined with the experiences the children receive in Religious School, the two weekly events are what has kept us alive for so many years. They are two sides of the same coin—Religious School is the opportunity to learn, Shabbat is the occasion to practice and be part of the larger temple community.
Please know that you are always welcome at our services, and we hope that, like me, you will find love, solace, understanding, community and acceptance with us.