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Bring Peace!

On Saturday evening I stood with 200 other cyclists watching the sunset over Makhtesh Ramon, a large box canyon in the Negev desert. It was then that we began to learn about the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. We made Havdalah and sang to Elijah the prophet, who we pray will one day bring peace to the world. We sang in defiance of the world and the troubles it too often brings us. Even when that hope seems distant, we continue to sing.

This is what Jews do. We stand up against adversity. Sometimes with song. Other times with political action. Always with the hope that the future can be better than the past. We are defiant in the face of adversity. We pray for peace when it appears impossible. If Jews had allowed history to defeat them, there would be no State of Israel. I could not have spent the past week riding through stretches of desert that took my breath away. That is always the first and most important lesson we should take into our hearts.

And this coming Shabbat, we will sing even more loudly, and perhaps even more defiantly. We will meet as we always do on Friday evening at 7 pm. Feel free to invite your friends and neighbors. I have received messages from Christian and Muslim friends who want me to know that their hearts are joined with ours. Invite such friends to join you at services.

The next day, on Sunday morning we gathered at the same spot, again overlooking the Makhtesh, to offer prayers and begin the day of riding. The Israel Ride has a tradition that someone different carries a small Torah scroll every day of the ride. A couple from the Pittsburgh synagogue, who still did not know who among their friends and fellow congregants were alive or dead, was given this honor. They carried the Torah. And they rode. They moved forward. And then for the last day the scroll was given to a young woman who will help to carry our people forward.

We move toward the future. We hope for a day of peace. We ride forward.

This ride is about more than cycling. It is about making peace. It is about bringing Jews, Christians and Muslims, Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians together around their shared concern for the environment. At the Arava Institute, they do not avoid confronting disagreements. They do not avoid the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Students are in fact forced to discuss these issues and conflicts with their colleagues. But then after they scream at each other and cry about their own pain, they sit and eat their meals, together as one.

The institute is also about so much more than studying the environment. It lives by the principle that it is far more difficult to hate when the stranger becomes a friend rather than a caricature.

Until Charlottesville, we believed our country would always be a safeguard against antisemitism and that we would never again know the feelings of the stranger. This past Shabbat was a deadly reminder that in our own country, the very place that we have felt at home for generations, there are still those who “want all Jews to die.” This past Shabbat was a violent wake-up call that as much as we wish our sanctuary to be a refuge from the troubles of the outside world, contemporary events too often pierce that solace. They tear away at the joy which is the essence of Shabbat.

And yet perhaps this Shabbat can offer us something else. The Sabbath is also “vayinafash”. It is a day when our souls are meant to be restored. Perhaps our faith can be restored in our neighbors. And our hope can be restored in our country. I have invited my friends and local Christian clergy to our services. Their presence will help to bolster my faith. We can pray and sing so as to banish the terror that seeps into our hearts. And at the very least, our songs will buttress our hope.

The synagogue’s board and I will of course review our security protocols. We take the safety of everyone who enters through our doors very seriously. We will of course update you after our discussions. Nonetheless the secret to fighting hatred, antisemitism, and terror is found more in our hearts. It is discovered by teaching about peace. It is found in speaking out against those who sow hatred.

And so, I can promise you this. Shabbat will help to strengthen our hearts. It will help to restore our souls.

We will mourn. We will also sing.

And we will once again wish each other a “Shabbat Shalom.”

A day of peace.