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Rabbi Eric Polokoff, B’nai Israel of Southbury, Composers’ Shabbat 5776

SUNDAY’S ATTACK BY AN ISLAMIST TERRORIST AT THE PULSE NIGHTCLUB IN ORLANDO SPECIFICALLY TARGETED THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY, AND LEFT A WAKE OF DEATH AND DESTRUCTION. THE HASIDIC MASTER RABBI NACHMAN TAUGHT: EIN DAVAR SHALEIM YOTEIR MILEV SHAVUR, “THERE IS NOTHING MORE WHOLE THAN A BROKEN HEART.” WE MOURN FOR THE MANY VICTIMS OF THIS BRUTAL CRIME –OUR THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS ARE WITH THEM, AND THEIR FAMILIES.

I SAW THIS WEEK ON SOCIAL MEDIA, HOWEVER, THAT OUT OF A FRUSTRATION OF YET ANOTHER MASS SHOOTING, AND ARGUING THAT GUN ADVOCATES WERE DISINGENUOUS IN ANY EXPRESSIONS OF SYMPATHY – THAT SOME LEGISLATORS WERE MERELY MOUTHING PIETIES AND CLICHES – SOME IN THE MEDIA DISMISSED THE VERY NOTION OF EXTENDING PRAYERFUL CONDOLENCES. AFTER AURORA OR SAN BERNARDINO, AFTER FT. HOOD OR VIRGINIA TECH, AND OF COURSE, AFTER SANDY HOOK, THEY SAID: ‘WE’RE TIRED OF PRAYERS, IT’S TIME TO ACT.’ AS ONE WRITER PUT IT IN A LINK I READ ON FACEBOOK: “AFTER ORLANDO THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS WILL SAVE NO ONE, ACTIONS AND REACTIONS JUST MIGHT.”

I SHARE THE EXASPERATION OVER CONTINUED MASS VIOLENCE; AND I, TOO, ABHOR TRIVIALITY OR RELIGIOUS INSINCERITY WHEN I HEAR IT. STILL, I COULDN’T DISAGREE MORE WITH THAT POSTING. NOW IS A TIME FOR MORE PRAYERS – NOT LESS. AS THE BIBLE TEACHES THERE IS A TIME TO WEEP, TO MOURN AND TO SPEAK. YES, THERE IS A TIME TO PRAY. OF COURSE, WE ARE TO THINK AND PRAY BEYOND GENERALITIES. NOT ALL PRAYERS ARE THE SAME. WHAT’S CRITICAL IS THE PRECISE UNDERSTANDINGS WE SEEK TO CONVEY. THIS SHABBAT WE PAUSE TO CONSIDER THE PRECIOUS SOULS OF THE VICTIMS, MURDERED BY A MERCILESS AGGRESSOR AND HIS ACCOMPLICES. MAY THEY FIND PEACE IN A WORLD-TO-COME. A PRAYER IN OUR NEW HIGH HOLY DAY PRAYERBOOK, MISHKAN HANEFESH, OBSERVES: THESE THINGS I KNOW: HOW THE LIVING GO ON LIVING AND HOW THE DEAD GO ON LIVING WITH THEM SO THAT IN A FOREST EVEN A DEAD TREE CASTS A SHADOW AND THE LEAVES FALL ONE BY ONE AND THE BRANCHES BREAK IN THE WIND AND THE BARK PEELS OFF SLOWLY AND THE TRUNK CRACKS AND THE RAIN SEEPS IN THROUGH THE CRACKS AND THE TRUNK FALLS TO THE GROUND AND THE MOSS COVERS IT AND IN THE SPRING THE RABBITS FIND IT AND BUILD THEIR NEST INSIDE THE DEAD TREE SO THAT NOTHING IS WASTED IN NATURE OR IN LOVE. WE LAMENT THE 49 DEATHS AT THE PULSE IN ORLANDO AND THE VOID THESE PEOPLE LEAVE IN THE LIVES OF THEIR LOVED-ONES. THEIR FAMILIES, LIVING IN A FOG OF TRAGEDY, DESERVE OUR SYMPATHIES. AS WITH THE FAMILIES OF THE MURDERED FROM LAST WEEK’S SHOOTING IN THE TEL AVIV MARKET, THEIR LOVE WAS NOT IN VAIN.

AND WE ALSO GO FURTHER, IN SOLIDARITY WITH ANOTHER GROUP LIKE OUR OWN. WE ACKNOWELDGE AN INEXCUSABLE CONTEXT IN WHICH LGBTQ PERSONS REMAIN A MOST PREVELANT TARGET IN OUR LAND FOR HATE CRIMES. THEIR COMMUNITY, WHICH LIKEWISE INTERSECTS OF OUR OWN AND CONTINUES TO FACE BIGOTRY AND BIAS, DESERVES OUR VOCAL AND ONGOING SUPPORT. AND IT WILL HAVE IT WELL BEYOND JUNE, LGBTQ PRIDE MONTH.

ON THIS SHABBAT WE ALSO PRAY FOR THE RESCUERS AND EMERGENCY WORKERS AND CARE-GIVERS, SUCH AS TRAUMA SURGEON JOSEPH IBRAHIM. THESE PEOPLE COME FROM MANY DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS AND FAITH TRADITIONS – INCLUDING, TELLINGLY, ISLAM – YET THEY WERE UNITED IN THEIR EFFORTS TO BRAVELY SAVE LIFE.

I TRUST I’VE MADE MY POINT – THE SENTIMENT THAT “AFTER ORLANDO THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS WILL SAVE NO ONE” IS ILL-CONCEIVED AND ILL-ADVISED. WE KNOW THAT TRANSFORMATIONAL FIGURES – WHETHER MOSES OR ISAIAH, OR DR. KING OR HIS MANY DEAR FRIENDS AND ALLIES IN THE RABBINATE, ALL UNDERSTOOD THAT PRAYER DOESN’T NECESSARILY CONDONE COMPLACENCY OR INACTION; REAL PRAYER CONFRONTS COMPLACENCY AND INSPIRES ACTION. PRAYERS CAN HELP TO SAVE US, AS JUDAISM HAS LONG COUNSELED: THOSE WHO RISE FROM PRAYER BETTER PERSONS, THEIR PRAYER HAS BEEN ANSWERED.

ASSUREDLY, WITH OUR TALENTED CHOIR AND B’NAI MITZVAH AND THE LIKE, THIS IS EVIDENCED THIS EVENING. THIS SYNAGOGUE IS ABEIT T’FILAH, A HOUSE OF PRAYER. YET PRECISELY BECAUSE OF THE PRAYERS WE RECITE – OUR PRAYERS FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE AND HEALING, OUR WORSHIP TO PUT AN END TO ANGER, HATRED AND FEAR – WE’RE LIKEWISE A CENTER FOR ADVOCACY AND DIVERSITY. MANY HERE HAVE LOGGED COUNTLESS HOURS ON THIS CAMPUS AND BEYOND STUDYING AND DISCUSSING POLICY ISSUES, AND REACHING OUT FOR ALLIES AS WE SEEK TO TRANSLATE RELIGIOUS UNDERSTANDINGS INTO EFFECTIVE CARING, SOCIAL ACTION; INTO SUPPORT FOR PLURALISM, SAFETY AND ISRAEL ADVOCACY. AS A CONGREGATION WE TEACH THESE LESSONS TO OUR ADULTS AND TO OUR CHILDREN IN OUR RELIGIOUS SCHOOL, FOR THEM TO ABSORB AND TO MODEL. THEY TOO, OUR NEXT GENERATION MUST WORK FOR A TIME ENVISIONED BY OUR HEBREW PROPHETS WHEN “SWORDS SHALL BE TURNED INTO PLOWSHARES, SPEARS INTO PRUNING HOOKS,” AND PERHAPS, IN KEEPING WITH THE BUCOLIC AGRICULTURAL MOTIF, ‘WHEN ASSAULT RIFLES ARE TURNED INTO SPRINKLER SYSTEMS.’ THEY TOO MUST CARRY THE HOPE FOR A DAY WHEN “NEIGHBOR SHALL INVITE NEIGHBOR UNDER SHADED VINE OR FIG TREE WITH NONE TO MAKE THEM AFRAID.”

ALL OF WHICH LEADS TO THE SIGNFICANCE OF COMPOSER’S SHABBAT, AS THIS EVENING WE’VE HIGHLIGHTED THE COMPOSITIONS OF OUR OWN MUSIC DIRECTOR, LINDA GOODMAN, ALONG WITH THE MELODIES WRITTEN HERE BY DENNIS GUILLAUME AND CANTOR HOLLIS SCHACHNER. MUSIC HEIGHTENS AND DEEPENS PRAYER, BECKONING US TO CONSIDER EACH WORD AND THOUGHT. AS THE HASIDIC SAGE RABBI NACHMAN ALSO TAUGHT: “THE MOST DIRECT MEANS FOR ATTACHING OURSELVES TO GOD FROM THE MATERIAL WORLD IS THROUGH MUSIC AND SONG.” HENCE AT A TIME WHEN PRAYER IS PARTICULARLY NEEDED, LINDA AND HER FELLOW COMPOSERS MAKE CONCEPTS ACCESSIBLE AS THEY REMIND US OF OUR OWN ONGOING COMMITMENTS, VALUES AND IDEALS.

 A FEW YEARS BACK LINDA SET TO MUSIC WORDS FROM LAST WEEK’S PORTION TORAH THAT WE HAD INSCRIBED INTO OUR READERS TABLE: V’SAMU ET SHMI AL B’NAI YISRAEL V’ANI AVARACHEIM. GOD SAYS: “AND THEY SHALL LINK MY NAME WITH B’NAI ISRAEL AND I WILL BLESS THEM.” THAT IS, OUR RESPONSE TO DEATH AND DESTRUCTION AND THE ILLS AND CHALLENGES OF OUR OWN TIME IS NOT TO ROTE OR GRATUITIOUS STATEMENTS BUT TO RELATE TO SOMETHING BEYOND OURSLEVES; TO GRASP THE IMPORTANCE OF LINKAGES, RELATIONSHIPS; TO BE OPEN AND INCLUSIVE; AND TO SING AND LISTEN AND PRAY WITH HEART AND SOUL. IN A BROKEN WORLD WITH BROKEN HEARTS MAY THE WHOLENESS OF THIS ENDEAVOR BRING MEANING AND BLESSING.

CAIN YEHI RATZON, BE THIS GOD’S WILL.

Rabbi Polokoff received his Sacred Theology Master's from Yale Divinity School. His rabbinic ordination, Master's in Hebrew Literature and Doctor of Divinity are from the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, and his undergraduate degree is from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Earlier in his rabbinate, he was rabbi of Congregation B'nai Chaim of Southbury and an executive in New York at the Reform Movement's umbrella organization, now known as the Union for Reform Judaism.


rabbi eric polokoff stm, dd

“AFTER ORLANDO THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS WILL SAVE”