My father’s favorite refrain during my childhood was “Action and reaction!” Typically this wisdom would come after my brothers broke another household fixture while wrestling each other from room to room, or my screaming in the rear-facing seat of the family station wagon because someone took my Hubba Bubba chewing gum.
“Caaaandice,” his voice unfolding my name with the precision of a kosher butcher, “Action and reaction!”
This, from the marine engineer who studied Newton’s Third Law of Physics at the U.S. Naval Academy. While I once saw this phrase as mere hackneyed platitude and, admittedly, somewhat of a joke easily and frequently parodied by us kids, I now view it with a bit more reverence. In no way do I understand the scientific implications, but its rudimentary concept came to life for me during my first year teaching at an Orthodox Yeshiva high school.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Two months into my new job, tragedy descended upon the Jewish community — the vicious hand of antisemitism struck again. This time in the shape of an AR-57 and three Glock 357s. An October Shabbat morning at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh quickly became the all-too familiar scene of spilled Jewish blood. In the midst of my horror and outrage that weekend, I grieved for my colleagues and my students. But I also wondered what to expect come Monday morning.
How will my new Jewish community react to this action of evil? And how should I, a Christian, react, both to them and to the fact of a growing global antisemitism?
But I didn’t have to wait until Monday. Their response was immediate (after sun down, of course). Our faculty WhatsApp was chiming like the bells of Notre Dame or, more relevantly, the car horns on the 405 behind my house. You see, silence wasn’t an option. Life wasn’t paused. No one was unsure what to say or what to do. The messages flooded out — very human messages reminiscent of David’s Psalms. But confusion, anger, and despair were overshadowed by stories, people, and plans.
In short, the way my new Jewish community reacted to the evil of this attack is with a resounding L’Chaim — To Life!
I’ve come to learn that the 1st Century (C.E. or Common Era) Jewish scholar, Rabbi Akiva, is credited with the first L’Chaim toast in the Talmud; his invaluable teachings also explain that life is Torah knowledge. And that when the Jewish people gather and together shout L’Chaim, they are shouting for goodness, for peace and blessings to rain down. But one doesn’t make a toast alone. One cannot clink wine glasses to the air. Especially since, according to Chabad.org (yes, I watch their videos), the literal meaning of L’Chaim is not “to life,” but “to lives.”
“Caaaandice,” my Heavenly Father whispered with the tenderness of ocean foam, “to lives.”
Experiencing the aftermath of the Pittsburgh attack along side my colleagues and students taught me that the Jewish people seem to know better than the rest of us that a life not shared is unlivable. I walked onto campus Monday morning to find candle-laden table displays of 17″ x 11″ glossy photos of each of the shooting victims. One of our rabbis shared stories from his time living in Squirrel Hill. We sang. We prayed. We even laughed. But of most impact to me was the school-wide assembly which included our students’ sharing the precious details of each of the victims’ lives.
For a moment, these people were no longer dead — Joyce Fienberg Z”‘, Richard Gottfried Z”l, Rose Mallinger Z”l, as well as the other eight victims were made alive through the words of our students.
Later that year, a few of my students flew to Poland to participate in an event called The March of the Living. Thousands of Jewish youth march together from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Hashoah, as a tribute to all victims of the Holocaust. But it doesn’t end there. The second leg of the trip is to Israel, to their homeland where they march from the Kikar Sofra (City Hall) to the Kotel (Western Wall) where an epic, and I mean epic, celebration breaks out.
What apt symbolism… from the ashes of Auschwitz to the milk and honey of Jerushalayim.
Sadly, there will always be actions motivated by hate. But the Jewish community gets it right — the only Godly reaction is to live, to lives, and to life. L’Chaim, Baruch Hashem, and Thank God!
#baruchhashem #tolife #pittsburghstrong #strongerthanhate