I wrote this prayer after the massacre of Jews at prayer at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. A gunman, stoked by the anti-immigrant rhetoric and desiring to do harm to the synagogue which was connected to Jewish efforts to support immigrants and asylum seekers, stormed into the synagogue on Shabbat, spraying bullets everywhere.
Unfortunately, I need to update my prayer. Today, April 27, at the Chabad synagogue of Poway, on this last day of Passover, during Yizkor services honoring the deceased, a young man, filled with rage against Jews, entered and began shooting. So far, we know one woman has died. The rabbi was shot in the hand.
To be honest, this could be a prayer for any person about to enter a holy place (mosque, church, monastery…) once thought to be safe. I am sad I felt compelled to write it.
A Prayer For One Who Enters a Synagogue
Pause as you stand before the entrance,
And say a brief prayer: “May my fellow worshippers and I be protected”,
Touch the mezuzah, bring your fingers to your lips in a kiss,
Remember why you are here.
Notice your intention: to listen, to learn, to seek light.
Greet the greeters and thank them for their kindness
in welcoming all the souls that will enter this sacred space,
because what is what is the mitzvah of welcoming guests,
now has some danger attached:
First Defenders From Those Who Would Do Us Harm.
Gather your prayerbook, your tallit, your Chumash.
Sit next to a friendly face.
You are now partners in whatever experience will ensue,
merely by being in the same circle of energy.
Say a silent blessing for the joy of human contact,
and a prayer for safety and peace this day.
As the music fills the sanctuary and the prayers build one on top of the other,
The circle grows tighter and
you become aware that you are on a journey together
through the past and future and the now.
You ride the ebb & flow, and you take flight together…
You remember the dead, you speak of Oneness,
you remember all the ways you are grateful.
Your final words are ones of peace.
Oseh Shalom. May the One who makes peace…
You realize what a holy journey this is, to pray, learn and sing together.
Before Pittsburgh, and before Charlottesville,
And before Poway,
You may have taken all this for granted.
But No More.
Hatred has come once again to our people.
It dawns on you that gathering as Jews in America is now an act of bravery.
You don’t know if there will be swastikas painted on the synagogue walls or tiki torches burning around the corner.
But you still go.
You breathe in your own courage,
you bless your own neshama/soul for your strength.
You keep on showing up, as generations did before.
Bless your heart,
bless those who greet you,
those who protect you,
bless those who come and remove the anti-semitic graffiti off your walls,
bless those who come and sit next to you.
Bless the rabbi and cantor who come to lead & inspire.
Bless the custodians who clean.
FILL THIS HOLY PLACE WITH BLESSINGS and PRESENCE.
“It is a Tree of Life to all who hold fast to it.”
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman
Holding Fast: Jews Respond to American Gun Violence edited by Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman is a rabbi-at-large who teaches core spiritual principles and practices to enrich people’s daily lives. She leads Hineni, an online Jewish community, and teaches widely as a Scholar-in-Residence, and meets with people looking for spiritual guidance and support via video or in-person. She was ordained at Hebrew Union College, and has been trained in Jewish meditation and mindfulness.
For another Rabbi Jill prayer about the horror of gun violence, click here.
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