Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: Passing understanding

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Passing understanding

Saturday, April 20, 2013

To say the week has been eventful here in Boston is quite the understatement. When you think of last Saturday, with its preparations for the Marathon still underway and all the people still alive and well...The events have been horrifying, frightening, enraging. And most of all, baffling, at least to me. The things I don’t understand pile up: What kind of person methodically plans for the greatest possible harm to the greatest number of people and then casually walks away? How many of the daily small insults life hands all of us add up to wanting to maim and kill everyone in sight, people you’ve never met, people of all ages gathered in celebration? How angry does someone have to be to want to rain down thoughtless destruction?

During the day of lockdown, I thought about how frightening it felt to be a few miles away from where the main action was going on and how much more so it must have been in the immediate area and I wondered how were parents explaining this to their children in a calming and helpful way.

Last night, after the capture of “suspect #2,” I understood the outpouring of relief and people pilling out into a mild spring evening that suddenly felt safe. But after the first few minutes of the televised jubilant outpouring, I was baffled once again. The shouts of “USA,” which at first felt like shout-outs to all the police and other responders who had handled the crisis with professional efficiency, admirable openness, and great courage began to feel like something else, something ugly.  And I thought about a Facebook post in which a group of people held up a hand-lettered sign offering sympathy to the people of Boston and noting that this is what life is like every day in Syria. I thought about the courage it must take to wear a hijab or an Arabic-sounding name in 21st- century America.

Among the acts of generosity that came out of these days was an e-mail I received from my temple.  Temple Israel had cancelled sabbath services because of the lockdown and the clergy had created a cyber-service we could attend wherever we were. There were some words that helped balance my sense of bewilderment. 

This Shabbat was one of the few during the year in which two Torah portions are read. They are Acharei Mot (my daughter Deborah’s bat mitzvah portion) and Kedusha. As our senior rabbi, Ronne Friedman, explained, there is a lesson in simply knowing the translation of the names: Acharei mot--“after the deaths,” (referring to the incomprehensible deaths of Aaron’s two sons) and Kedusha--”be holy.” One of our other rabbis, Elaine Zecher, talked about how when what we think and know reaches our hearts and moves us to do what we know is right, we can “make our lives a blessing.” 

There is still so much I don’t understand about the past five days, and I’m know I’m not alone in that. But these three phrases are tools to build today with: Make our lives a blessing. After the deaths, be holy.

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