May 15, 2003
Reflections After the Fire
On May 7, at about 6:30 a.m., I was awakened by a call informing me that an incendiary bomb had been thrown through the stained-glass window of our sanctuary at Valley Beth Shalom. I rushed to the temple, only to find that our custodians, uninstructed by any temple official, had themselves rushed into the sanctuary, opened the ark, removed the scrolls of the Torah and deposited them safely in another room. A spark of holiness penetrated the darkness of our mood. Here were men and women who take care of the grounds of the synagogue, clean and prepare the classes, seminars and programs of our congregation, people mostly Hispanic and Catholic, not of our faith or our catechism, who would not stand idly by and observe without action the violation of a people's sanctuary. We must acknowledge Marcial Cano, Martha Arelleno, Irma Buenelo and Carlos Crespian, custodians lovingly supervised by Sigfredo Barker and his daughter, Noemi Lasky. Here are people who realized in their lives the potentiality of God's image invested in every child of Adam and Eve.
Where do you find the sparks of decency in tragedy? In the response of men and women of all faiths who, on the very next evening, gathered together in a prayer of solidarity at St. Cyril's Catholic Church just two days after the fire-bombing. Men and women, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Baha'i, Armenian clergy, who sang and prayed and heard each others' anguish and each others' resolve to stand together to offer each other their houses of worship to those sanctuaries which were violated.
"How do you struggle against causeless hate?" the late Rabbi Abraham Kook asked. He answered simply, "You answer causeless hate with causeless love."
What can we learn from such incidents? Hatred is indiscriminate. It destroys synagogues, churches, mosques and ashrams. No one is exempt and everyone is responsible to protect each other. We have an antidote with which to counter the toxicity of hate. Vigilance, care, the sacred embrace of love that transcends one's own sanctuary and enters the sacred space of our neighbors. We are Adam and Eve's children and we share in common tears and fears and hopes. We cannot always prevent the violence, but we can always light up each other's night.
Harold Schulweis is senior rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.