My prayers turn to the victims of yet another church shooting, this one in Nashville, Tennessee. I do not know the reasons for this, nor dare I posit wild suggestions. I am more concerned with the cumulative impact these events might have on all houses of worship in the United States. We have always been proud of the freedom of religion that is a founding principle of our country. No matter your religion, or even if you might be an atheist or agnostic, you are free to practice your religion here. Whom of us could have dreamed that valued freedom is risky?
Houses of worship have always been open and welcoming institutions. If you needed a private moment to pray, the door was open and you could sit in prayer and not be disturbed. If you wanted to participate in communal prayer, the times are made public because the public is invited. Houses of worship are not merely there for worship. Indeed, the model for a synagogue is based upon three components: a house of prayer; a house of study; a house of assembly. Most churches, synagogues and mosques offer these through worship, study and fellowship. However, to be able to offer these opportunities, the doors have to be open. Do we need to evolve to secure facilities that are always locked, with each member possessing a membership card that they scan to enter? Is that the price that we must pay for freedom of religion? Could you imagine coming to Shabbat morning services, only to remember that you left your membership card on the night stand, and have to wait in the rain for someone else to show up to scan their card to let you in? How do we welcome a stranger who is looking for a place to pray if our doors have to be locked?
I do not offer these thoughts to cause undue worry, as I am not worried. However, I am vigilant, and discussions continue in our community in addition to throughout the country as all houses of worship re-examine what it means to be open and welcoming yet secure. I would like to think that an appropriate compromise exists to be welcoming and safe simultaneously. We read in the final words of Moses this week the following, as he offers farewell blessings to each tribe: “And of Zebulun he said: Rejoice, O Zebulun, on your journeys, and Issachar, in your tents. They invite their kin to the mountain, where they offer sacrifices of success.” May we continued to be privileged to meet in our house of God in safety.