My phone was on silent. I was at the library, at the Writers Circle, reading my piece on the pipe-bomber, Cesar Sayoc. Walking back home, the pipe-bomber was still on my mind. What if the bombs had gone off? We would be burying dead bodies and consoling families. I sent a quick text to my husband Khalid, ‘On my way’. Are there any more bombs in the mail? I kept walking, headed home.
Khalid was waiting by the door. “Did you hear?” He asked.
Oh No! His tone sounded worse than it being another pipe bomb intercepted in the mail.
He told me.
Shock is hard to describe. Shock is hard to absorb. When you are told that a gunman attacked a synagogue and killed people in prayer, shouting ‘kill the Jews’, the enormity of the impact is staggering.
Hate! Hatred of Jews. Hate turned to violence. Violence intended to exterminate. Hate so intense that it can drive a man to attack a house of worship and kill people in prayer.
Madness out of control! People are dead.
My son came to visit me that day, shaken up. The childhood home of his best friend was just blocks from the Tree of Life synagogue. One of those killed was his friend’s mentor. The next day, he shared what his friend had said.
“Mel Wax was a fixture in my synagogue growing up. He was my informal bar mitzvah tutor…he treated me like a real person, not just a kid. We were a small synagogue, and if there wasn’t a minyan (a minimum of 10 people)…he would call me to get the hell down there. …Mel shaking his head watching a Steelers-49ers game…You all know a Mel Wax, at your church or synagogue or mosque or school or in your neighborhood. A person who makes an impact on others just by being themselves and by doing what they do week in and week out. Mel Wax was murdered yesterday in a terrible act, along with 10 others—including other parents or friends of friends—doing what he did every single Saturday morning for his entire life, precise because of what he was doing….”
Did Mel Wax know that this would be the last time he would lead the Sabbath service. Did the Rosenthal brothers know that they would never go home again. When Richard Gottfried left home, was he thinking about his day of rest as he awaited sundown. Did Rose Mallinger know that this was her last Sabbath. Did Bernice Simon and her husband, Sylvan, and all the other five victims know that this was their last prayer.
Had any of them ever thought that their life would end with a bullet. No one should have to think that.
Yet, as the news unfolded, all we could think of was the last moments in the lives of the victims; the shock of being fired upon, the pain inflicted, the sound of screams, their last thoughts as they took their last breath; their loved ones when they heard the news, I hope its not mom; maybe Dad was late for services this morning. Frantic calls to the synagogue, the crushing news that it was Mom, it was Dad; Mom is dead, Dad is gone. Where did the bullet hit? Was it instant death? Did she suffer? When can I see the body? How did they break the news to their children, that grandpa was shot and killed? What did they say when the grandchildren asked, ‘Mom, why did he kill grandpa?’ ‘Dad, why did he hate the Jews?’
Where does one turn to for comfort? How does one not lose faith? I received an email message from Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, President, Cordoba House, invoking the Quran:
“The Quran commands that we restrain each other to protect ‘monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques in which God's Name is oft-remembered’ (Quran 22:40).”
At the vigil at Temple Emanu-El, I was moved by the words of Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO & ED of Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies of NY. In seeking God’s words for comfort, she quoted Psalms 121:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
My dear readers, keep the faith; He will watch over us.
Today, the families bury their dead. I weep with them.