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From Despair to Action

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“We are all Dor Hadash.”

This is the message that Suzanne Shanbaum, president of Ner Shalom, the Reconstructionist congregation of Cotati, Calif., posted on the presidents’ listserv on Saturday afternoon of Oct. 27, 2018. Suzanne, a former New Yorker who worked in the Twin Towers, knew from Sept. 11, 2001, how powerful identification and support can be in the aftermath of unimaginable tragedy. I quoted these words when I drove to Pittsburgh to join the Dor Hadash congregational meeting the next day, adding that I came with the support of 50,000 Reconstructionists and the commitment to stand by the community as it moved toward healing.

And, in a deeply ironic twist of fate, I said essentially the same words on May 10, 2019, when Dr. Tresa Grauer and I visited the other Reconstructionist community called Dor Hadash in San Diego. This visit was scheduled in advance, as part of a tour of our southern California affiliates. It was both a moving and an eerie coincidence that the timing worked out so that we were there the Shabbat after the shooting at the nearby Chabad of Poway, the second synagogue shooting after the rampage at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, where the Pittsburgh Dor Hadash congregation had been meeting.

Dor Hadash Rabbi Yael Ridberg moved to San Diego after serving as the rabbi of West End Synagogue, a Reconstructionist community in New York. She had provided hands-on pastoral support after Sept. 11, and during our visit she reflected on the intensity of being proximate to terror, and the need to recognize the pain and anxiety that can arise from that proximity. I was so grateful to be there that Shabbat almost by accident, and I learned that I should intentionally go if such a crisis ever happens again.

I and others at Reconstructing Judaism have had several conversations with board members at Pittsburgh’s Dor Hadash about how to support them. We held a minkhah service for victims of hate at our convention that was attended by hundreds of people, where Rabbi Doris Dyen and Dor Hadash president Ellen Surloff spoke. So many folks from across the Reconstructionist movement sent cards and emails and immediately contributed funds to enable the congregation to replace their prayer books and humashim, and thus to be able to hold services. (For details, see In Tragedy’s Wake, Dor Hadash Finds Strength in Jewish Community.) Most moving to the members of the community was the response of Darchei Noam, Toronto’s Reconstructionist congregation. In early December, several dozen members of Darchei Noam traveled with Rabbi Tina Grimberg to spend Shabbat at Dor Hadash, and in late March, they hosted Dor Hadash members in Toronto. Seth Rosen, the chair of our board of governors, and I will be with Dor Hadash in September, shortly before the 11 months of mourning for Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz comes to an end.

These are real actions, full of good intentions and meaning. And yet, they are not adequate to the horror and pain that was visited on the Pittsburgh Jewish community. We at Reconstructing Judaism are constantly trying to learn how to support and connect more completely and more meaningfully — for the Dor Hadash that was targeted, for the Dor Hadash that was proximate to terror, and for folks across the movement and beyond who are feeling anxious and destabilized in this current environment.

We are rethinking our assumptions — of our role and safety in North American life, of the language we use to describe ourselves and our place in the world.  Evolve: Groundbreaking Jewish Conversations is an especially rich place for this rethinking. One of the newest topics we just introduced is on antisemitism.

We are rethinking our practices. Since October, we have been sharing resources with Reconstructionist communities that address questions of how to make our synagogues safer while also upholding Jewish values of racial justice, interfaith community-building and equity. 

And in other ways, we are doubling down on core Reconstructionist commitments. We understand that we must reach outward to other Reconstructionist congregations — the way that members of Darchei Noam reached out to folks at Dor Hadash in Pittsburgh — and to stand in solidarity with other communities. Though we may feel helpless or even hopeless, we must turn away from despair and move toward action. We can each and all take actions to promote and enact our values at this volatile moment. We can and must put forward a muscular vision of what non-fundamentalist religion looks like. We can and do model how to be deeply particularistic and committed to the Jewish future, and how at the same time to be deeply universalist, and to care about the well-being of our friends and neighbors from other faiths. We must turn inward to ensure that we are adequately secure. And at the same time, we must take care that we also remain oriented to a larger vision of a redeemed and resilient world.

President, Reconstructing Judaism; Aaron and Marjorie Ziegelman Presidential Professor, RRC

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