First we mourn, and then we make their memories a blessing

On Tuesday evening, hundreds of Charlotteans gathered for an Interfaith Vigil to remember the murdered and injured from the horror of last Saturday night and Sunday morning in Orlando. 

Initially, I could come up with no words but these for that evening:

The litany is too painful. Our powerlessness seems overwhelming.

Judaism reminds us that, in the face of unspeakable loss and horror, we must start with the words we utter in grief and mourning - so on Tuesday evening with all of those people of many ethnicities, faiths, and identities, I chanted Eil Malei for those who were struck down:

Eil Malei Rachamim
Exalted, compassionate God, grant infinite rest, in Your sheltering Presence, among the holy and pure, to the souls of our sisters and brothers murdered by senseless hatred and violence in Orlando, who have gone to their eternal homes.
Merciful One, we ask that our loved ones find perfect peace in Your eternal embrace. May their souls be bound up in the bond of life.
May they rest in peace.
And let us say: Amen.

We mourn and then we work to transform death into something else, to find meaning, create life from the dead bodies of those whom we mourn, to devote ourselves to improving the world. At the minimum, we can sum up a Jewish ethic as a campsite morality:
We must leave the world better than we found it.

On Tuesday, I concluded with this poem, to help us all move from mourning into action, so that the memories of all whom we have lost might be turned into a blessing.

Dirge Without Music
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve. 
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.

 

I am not resigned to a world of unrestrained senseless hatred and violence. I have faith that we will all stand together and make sure that we do something - we cannot be paralyzed by the status quo.

First and foremost we must make true common cause with each other, and everyone who stands for civil decency.

We are united by more than divides us. We must stand together now.

Expand Medicaid Now

Here is our letter to the Editors from yesterday's Charlotte Observer: 

Plea to McCrory from 75 clergy, others: Accept Medicaid money

   

Seventy-five concerned N.C. clergy, religious leaders, state representatives, organization leaders and citizens have signed a letter urging Gov. Pat McCrory to accept federal Medicaid funds so the neediest uninsured North Carolinians can get health care.

   

Refusing Medicaid expansion threatens 500,000 North Carolinians’ health and would increase deaths in the state by 2,000 people per year.

   

All 500,000 eligible N.C. citizens must have access to Medicaid. Failing to fully expand Medicaid threatens many rural clinics and hospitals.

   

We ask Gov. McCrory to bring  our money back to our state, and give more North Carolinians access to desperately needed health care. It will be better for all of us.

   

Rabbi Jonathan Freirich

   

Rev. Dr. Rodney S. Sadler Jr.

   

Charlotte

   

Editor’s note: Freirich is Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth El. Sadler is an associate professor at Union Presbyterian Seminary.

Read more here:

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/10/30/4427218/observer-forum-letters-to-the.html#.UnK8YyQ6KkI#storylink=cpy

 

Bloody Sunday Commemoration

I was honored to join a great group of people of all faiths to commemorate the events of March 1965 - the march from Selma to Montgomery that helped raise the awareness needed to pass the Voting Rights Act. Here were my words:

As people of faith, we share a tradition of protest and change, and faith in humanity to eventually embrace justice. Even in the Wilderness of Sinai, the Israelites brought forward their protests about unfairness in the system established by God.
 
In the Book of Numbers, the Daughters of Tzlofachad protested that they would not inherit according to the system laid out by God through Moses. Moses brought their protest to God, who in turn changed the law to allow daughters to inherit. Later on, others in Tzlofachad’s tribe pointed out that should these daughters inherit, and marry outside of the tribe, that the inherited lands would end up outside of the tribe as well. Moses again went to God, who again amended the law to make it more just.
 
Many of us share a tradition of protest that challenges injustice. When we imagine even the divine rewriting the rules of society to make them fairer, we understand that we must always rise up against violations of justice wherever we find them. It is upon us to bring concerns of justice to all authorities – even the highest laws must adhere to the highest standards.
 
We stand together here today, in commemoration of those who placed fairness over even their personal safety. In this Passover season of re-commitment to freedom, in this spring season of renewal, may we also renew our commitments to continue to pursue fairness and justice for everyone.