I have two kinds of shampoo in my shower.
One smells like mint and the other smells like berries. This morning I reached for the minty one. It smells cleaner and I want to scrub yesterday away.
Evil leaves a residue and Boston is sticky with it this morning.
I want to dunk us all in the mikvah – all of Boston; all those scared and angry and grieving souls – I want to dunk the whole world in the mikvah.
As if evil could be washed away. Or even just to give us all that moment of renewal and rebirth; that feeling of control over our lives and our choices.
Yesterday I was a New Yorker and I became a Bostonian all in one jumbled, crazy, painful, sad day.
I didn’t live in NY when 9/11 occurred. I was in Canada (dare I say a place which is still safe from this kind of madness?). I was glued to my couch and my TV screen. I was trying to come to grips with a new world reality. We all were.
But even though I wasn’t in NY that day, you can’t live there for five years and not be intimately familiar with the after-effects of acts of terror (never mind that I lived in Jerusalem for a year!). New Yorkers know. Israelis know. People in London and Barcelona know. People in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria know. And now Bostonians will know. There is no going back to the security of BEFORE. We will never be as innocent. We will never feel as safe. We will never really understand how something like this could happen HERE (as opposed to THERE); to US (as opposed to THEM). Whatever peace and serenity we felt yesterday morning – BEFORE – is gone. There is no going back.
And New Yorkers and Israelis will teach us about security and about resilience and about looking out for one another. There will be stories of hope and of helping and of bravery and selflessness. We will become more vigilant. We will say we are stronger for having gone through this…
Today on NPR a doctor from a Boston hospital said, “I don’t think Bostonians will be deterred by terror. We will be motivated by it.” As if that were a good thing. Like those who argue for tough love. Or justify abuse. As if we should thank those who perpetuate acts of violence and terror for making us stronger. I know that’s not what this doctor meant but it makes me so angry! I don’t want to be stronger! I don’t want to be resilient! We shouldn’t have to be and I will not be thankful for it!
The ends don’t justify the means. NOTHING can justify these kinds of acts. Not even the silver lining.
But of course, anger leads to anger. It’s not helpful. It’s not productive. It’s not really rabbinic.
We will rise above this. Like New Yorkers. Like Israelis. Like – hopefully – Iraqis and Syrians one day will. We will seek out community with others. We will seek out compassion within ourselves. We will find comfort in the words of our traditions and in the arms of our loved ones. (Ah yes, now I’m sounding more like a rabbi!). But I know it’s true. Even if we shouldn’t have to. We will.
My dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Tamar Grimm, a far more authentic Bostonian than I (although I live here now and she does not), shared these thoughts on her blog:
The good news is that those of us not driven to inflict violence on other people have a strong inclination to help others and care for others — especially in times of crisis…
Positive thinking and looking for hope in times where it seems sparse help us endure these difficult experiences. As a religious leader I feel all the more compelled to highlight the positive, but not necessarily for the reasons you might expect. It’s not about restoring faith in G-d. Those who reject organized religion because it requires that you either ignore the problem of evil or make excuses for G-d in the face of its existence — I hear you! I’m not interested in religion as a theological explanation for the suffering in our world. Nor am I particularly interested in blaming G-d for it. My kind of religion is about instilling the values of selflessness, generosity, and loving-kindness on each successive generation…
I often temporarily lose faith in the goodness of people when someone commits a horrific act such as this one. It’s so incredibly awful. I question how anyone could do such a thing. Yet, the evil are few, while the good are numerous. We do not live in Noah’s time of utter chaos and violence. We live in a time, thankfully, where in the face of crisis and tragedy, people come forward to rescue, heal, and protect each other. They reach out, showing generosity and kindness, caring and concern. This cannot be underestimated. Believe in G-d or don’t, but believe in humanity. I believe we are the world’s best hope.
Tamar and I and rabbis and clergy all over Boston and America and the world will struggle along with one another, and with you – our communities – and with God, and with those who perpetuate evil in our world. We will struggle to understand, to contextualize, to comfort, to pull light out of the darkness and hold it up high to shine brightly for people to follow. We will inspire and be inspired. We will learn and teach. We will march on. Together. Each of us writing our own chapters and our own prayers.
Rabbi Joe Black in Colorado wrote a prayer with which I will end this post (there will likely be others today. It’s a day for writing to be sure!):
A Prayer in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing
On this day of destruction, we need to remember that the race is not for the swift[i]; there is no finish line for those who seek a better world.
Neither bombs, nor blood, not death, nor destruction can deter us from running, O God.
We run to You.
We run towards a vision of perfection that is always in our sights.
We run determined to never allow hatred to obscure Your presence.
We run to build a better world.
Be with those who have lost loved ones on this tragic day.
Send comfort and healing to the injured and the maimed.
Heal them – heal us all – body and soul – as we strive to find You.
Give us hope.
Help us to use our arms, our legs, our breath, our determination to unite in a common purpose.
In our grief may we find the strength to keep on running.