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There is no "them"; there is only us

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LJ Cohen


Our synagogue sent out an email last night inviting congregants to gather for a service in remembrance and in honor of those who were slain in Pittsburgh.

I am not a religiously observant Jew, despite attending Friday morning services nearly every week. I don't keep kosher. I don't quite believe in a biblical God. But I am Jewish and have been part of my local synagogue community for nearly 25 years.

When I do attend services, I meditate. I read the English translations of prayers and argue with that God I'm pretty sure doesn't exist. I breathe. I lift my voice in song with melodies that have carved their way through me to my core. Melodies that link me in an unbroken chain with my far away ancestors. In those moments, it doesn't matter what I believe: I am whole.

Today, I woke up early on a day I might have slept in.

I dressed and drove to the synagogue.

As I parked in the midst of other cars, I wondered if any of the other people here came with hatred and harm in their hearts.

I went in anyway.

Inside the small chapel, I gathered with other congregants. Some of whom I knew, others I did not. Their eyes all wore the same haunted look. Many were red rimmed. Others were openly weeping.

It was an act of resistance: raising our voices together in prayer in a sacred space knowing that just yesterday, someone had violated such a space. In that terrible moment, our community became inextricably tied to other communities of different faiths whose peace had been desecrated by hate. To classrooms of school children whose joy of learning had been shattered. To victims of violence in our streets when a normal trip to the market or a night out dancing became a death sentence.

This is not a Jewish Issue. Or a Black Issue. Or a Muslim Issue. Or an LGBTQ Issue.

This is an Human Issue.


I am afraid. Not so much for myself, but for my loved ones. Particularly for my children and the world they have come of age in. 

The world I have helped shape. I cannot absolve myself of my part in a terrible complacency that has allowed hatred to flourish. We believed that things were getting better. That society had moved beyond narrow tribalism to embrace a multi-ethnic culture. Perhaps the truth is I allowed myself to believe that because I was prospering. 

Over the past several years, a small voice inside keeps asking the same question: At what cost?


What can I do to help repair a wounded world? It feels so trivial to gather to say a prayer for the dead when the living are in so much pain.

Even in my current anguish, I argue with the translated blessings. Instead of reciting the Amidah, I meditate.

May all beings be held in lovingkindness.
May all beings be at peace.
May all beings be free from suffering.

To those reading this, thank you for being here with me.

May you be held in lovingkindness.
May you be at peace.
May you be free from suffering.

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