A Jew in America…

As the cloudy sky looked on, the sheriff’s patrol car that idled outside Congregation Bonai Shalom (in Boulder, Colorado) politely moved to allow me to take the last parking spot in the lot outside the synagogue.

Three 30-something congregants greeted me warmly as I approached the temple entrance.

“I’m from out of town,” I said.

“Oh, where from?” one asked me smiling broadly.

“From Texas,” I said, “Houston. May I join you today? I’m on the road for work and there’s no way that I’m not going to shul today.”

“Of course,” they answered heartily and nearly in unison.

By the time services were in full swing, the sanctuary was packed. And the young rabbi didn’t shy from noting what an emotional time it was for all of us. Only a week had passed since the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. Tears welled, it seemed, in everyone’s eyes, including mine.

When it came time for the Mourner’s Kaddish, before the Torah reading, something remarkable happened, something I’ve never seen in my life.

Jews across the world say this prayer every week. But not everyone who attends services recites this prayer for the dead. Only those in the first year of mourning do so.

It’s a scene that nearly every American Jew knows all too well. The bereaved stand and daven while the others remain seated and silent. I can remember being a child in temple, feeling the pain of those who stood. It always struck me as a sort of communal grief, as if we, the seated, were obliged to share the burden of those suffering.

On any given Saturday in any given temple across America, a handful of the worshipers always rise and chant while the rest of the congregation follows the prayer in silence.

But on this Saturday in Boulder, the rabbi asked everyone to stand and recite the prayer. It was one of the most powerful and moving moments of my spiritual life. And I can’t imagine that my fellow worshipers didn’t share the same sentiment as we all stood together.

The Mourner’s Kaddish isn’t a prayer for the dead. It’s a hymn calling us to praise G-d and an expression of our faith that He will redeem us.

Glorified and sanctified be G-d’s great name throughout the world
which He has created according to His will.

May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days,
and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon.

We all stood last Saturday morning in Colorado and together we all said the prayer in memoriam as we mourned our fallen sisters and brothers.

My heartfelt thanks goes out to the congregants of Bonai Shalom who so warmly welcomed me into their fold.

See this Washington Post column by professor of American Jewish history Lila Corwin Berman, “American Jews always believed the U.S. was exceptional. We were wrong.”

4 thoughts on “A Jew in America…

    • Sam, thanks so much for being here. There have been a lot of tears this week and last at our house.

      Yesterday, I went to my gym and saw — for the first time — a police car outside the shul next door. I remember seeing police outside the synagogues in Italy when I first traveled there in the late 80s. I remember thinking, wow, that would never happen in America…

      Thanks, man. Looking forward to the next time we taste together. And best wishes to you guys and your growing family.

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