Today, tragedy feels incredibly close to home once again, with news of this morning's shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. This is the home community of one of our Kavanapartners, Michal Inspektor, and there are bound to be countless others in our Seattle community who have close ties to Squirrel Hill as well. As was the case in the 2006 Seattle Jewish Federation shooting, it seems that in Pittsburgh today, it was anti-semitic hatred that motivated the shooter to commit these horrifically violent acts.
First, an important announcement: We will hold a Kavana Community Vigil tomorrow/Sunday. Plans are still coming together in real time, but there will certainly be space for song, silence and prayer. Please come if you can, to be together with our community in grief and solidarity, following this morning's horrific synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.
Now, I want to backtrack, to share a little bit of Kavana's history for context. These are thoughts that have been swirling in my mind all day today:
Kavana was officially born into existence on July 1, 2006. That month, we held a couple of "Kavana101" events -- parlor meetings for folks who were interested in being part of a new Jewish community to vision and brainstorm together -- and also one amazing multi-part Friday night event in Gasworks Park.
July 28, 2006, was a Friday. I had out-of-town guests visiting Seattle for the weekend, and a group of friends and I were on our way back from a hike in the Cascades that afternoon, when my cell phone rang. It was a colleague, asking me to turn on the news and come to Harborview Medical Center. Still in my hiking clothes, I sent my friends home to prepare Shabbat dinner, and I headed straight to Harborview, where victims of a horrific shooting at the Seattle Jewish Federation had been taken.
I spent the following hours in a small but bustling waiting room, sitting, talking and praying with family members of Federation employees who had been shot. The story of what had happened was still being pieced together, and it wasn't clear yet exactly who was in surgery, and whether all of them would make it or not. Ultimately, we learned that a man -- having used an internet search to find a Jewish address in Seattle -- had forced his way into the Federation offices (then on 3rd Avenue) and shot a number of employees while shouting about his hatred for Israel and his anger at the Jews.
By the next morning, it was clear that Pam Waechter, the director of the Federation's annual fundraising campaign, had been killed, and many other employees injured. Pam had been an enthusiastic attendee at one of our "Kavana 101" events just weeks before this tragedy. The Kavana community was still very much in formation, and this shooting could not have felt closer to home. On Saturday, July 29th, we gathered in Kinnear Park, together with friends from Kol HaNeshama, for a vigil of songs, prayer and silence.
This shooting -- particularly because it came in Kavana's first month of existence -- left an indelible imprint on the Kavana community.
First, we made an immediate decision that we would not publish physical addresses of our office or of event locations on our website. Although this has felt inconvenient at times to some of our participants (especially because we use multiple spaces!), knowing that we are just a little harder to find has helped make Kavana feel a bit safer than perhaps it would otherwise.
Second, since our inception, the Kavana community has been committed to curbing gun violence. In the years since 2006, our nation has witnessed many many more horrific shootings: at schools and nightclubs, churches and concert venues. Through it all, Kavana has remained steadfast in our hope that more sensible legislation can be put into place, here in Washington State and across the nation, to keep guns out of the hands of those who would do others harm.
Today, tragedy feels incredibly close to home once again, with news of this morning's shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. This is the home community of one of our Kavana partners, Michal Inspektor, and there are bound to be countless others in our Seattle community who have close ties to Squirrel Hill as well. As was the case in the 2006 Seattle Jewish Federation shooting, it seems that in Pittsburgh today, it was anti-semitic hatred that motivated the shooter to commit these horrifically violent acts.
During the last 12+ years of Kavana's existence, anti-semitism seems to have come in waves... and it certainly has increased in volume and intensity in the last couple of years (this according to statistical data from the ADL). Most incidents don't make the news. In recent weeks, for example, most of you probably don't know that there have been repeated anti-semitic graffiti "tags" on the east side of Queen Anne. Kavana partners Kara Schultz and Ivan Schneider have been instrumental in documenting, reporting, and sometimes even removing this graffiti; the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, and Seattle Police Department have all played roles in helping us address immediate concerns. Knowing that hatred is on the rise in our society was also a motivating factor in our board's decision to hire security officers for the High Holidays for the first time last year and again this year.
So now, as the news sinks in about this most recent act of domestic terrorism, I imagine that we in this community are feeling a wide range of emotional responses: traumatized, angry, vulnerable, and perhaps most of all, terribly sad. In real time, we are pulling together a community gathering for tomorrow evening, to make space for all of these responses and more. Please join us tomorrow evening -- that is, Sunday, October 28th, 7:30-8:30pm -- in the sanctuary of the Queen Anne Christian Church (1316 3rd Ave W.). Our gathering will feature song, silence, and prayer, and enable us to just take comfort in being together as a community. If any of you have something you'd like to share - a poem, something you've written, a song, etc. - please be in touch with me directly and we'll pull that into the program. Friends (whether Jewish or not) are more than welcome to join.
This evening as the sky grows dark, Jews the world over will celebrate the end of Shabbat with a havdalah candle - a torch intended to bring light to the darkness. Wherever you are this evening, please light a candle, and help us symbolically invite in the light to drive away the palpable darkness of hatred and violence that is sitting so heavily in our society right now.
I hope to be together with you in grief and in solidarity tomorrow evening. Wishing you a shavua tov.. or, as we sing, "may gladness reign and joy increase."
The Torah is usually terse and concise, but this week's parasha, Chayei Sarah, centers around a long story that is anything but! All 67 verses of Genesis chapter 24 are devoted to a single narrative: the tale of Abraham sending his servant on a journey to find a wife for his son Isaac, and returning with Rebecca, a woman of great agency, strength and generosity.
We Jews know how to wait. That is, we deeply understand humanity's imperfections, and that the presence of injustice or cruelty in our world cannot undermine our steadfast focus on trying to achieve our vision of a more perfect, more just future. We have lots of historical experience to draw on, and much language for this kind of spiritual resilience. One line that's been swimming through my head this week is from the prayer "Ani Maamin": "v'af al pi she-yitmameah, im kol zeh achakeh lo." Translating loosely here (and transposing what we're waiting for from a messianic figure to a time characterized by messianic ideals), this means: despite the fact that it's taking a long time for the world to change in the ways we believe it should, still, we are undeterred; we will wait - and work - until we arrive at an era of peace and justice.
Yesterday was the second anniversary of the violent attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Its memory casts a long shadow for me, and this year, the anniversary feels like a powerful reminder of the very high stakes of next week’s election.