I have been asked to share with you my sermon, which I most humbly offer now:
As promised yesterday, today I’m going to talk about “it”. What a year it has been. In some respects, I feel like a lifetime has passed since last RH. Alas, massacres have not ceased, and we have regrettably welcomed new cities into our club that no one wants to join. I cannot say that I’m pleased to share this with you, but the cities of Dayton and El Paso have both been helped by the knowledge that we have gained and shared. It is comforting to learn that we help comfort others in their time of need, just as Parkland, Charleston, Orlando, Newtown and Oak Park continue to comfort us.
It would be easy to surrender to despair, as the massacres pile up with no end in sight. I won’t let that happen, for if it would, then purveyors of H speech win. You’ve heard me say more than once: not on my watch! I have come to learn that I cannot rely on our elected leaders in Washington, DC, to act in some way, for it is not in their best interests. In the end, it is up to us to take care of ourselves and effect change.
The violent use of guns, the spray painting of swastikas, the assault and battery of someone because of their sexual orientation, sexual abuse in the workplace and hanging a noose in someone’s work locker are all physical manifestations directly derived from H speech. When we tone down the H speech, we lessen the severe consequences. The cure for H speech is not more of it. Remember your High School math? How do you lessen negative seven? If you add another negative seven to it, you get negative fourteen. The only way to eliminate a negative number is with a positive number. So too H speech. More of it worsens the situation.
The author of “Al Heyt” that we will be reciting throughout Yom Kippur knew this. Nearly half of the stanzas are about speech. I encourage all of you to take on my H speech oath. Don’t use it! If you seriously H a certain football team from the Northeastern part of the United States, just say “I don’t like them”. You see, as a NY Giants fan, I don’t have the problem that the Steelers have, because we have their number.
I’m not naïve. I know that this simple act of eliminating H speech won’t solve the big problems. However, we have to start somewhere. This oath is simple and requires no legislation, just thinking about the words we choose.
With the first year mark on the horizon, and the first yahrtzeit on November 16, the 18th day of Heshvan, I’d like to turn our attention inward, to more pressing matters. The world won’t let us forget anyway. There will be a media feeding frenzy, although hopefully less than one year ago, and then they will move on to the next news item, and we will continue to promote healing.
Despite all that happened to us, the challenges that we faced on October 26, 2018, have not gone away. We were forced to put them aside as matters of an emergency nature took precedence. There are so many people who gave of their time so selflessly this past year that I could not possibly thank you without omitting names, but please accept my heartfelt public gratitude for your time and commitment. Your involvement in the Tree was an excellent portend of a bright future. You may recall my HHD sermon last year on the first day of RH. It was an appeal for your most precious commodity: your time. So many of you responded positively. We had collated the results and were starting to reach out to you when came October 27. How tragic that it took a massacre to get so many volunteers. But how to sustain, when we are so weary?
The Tree is an aging congregation. If we do not reverse that trend, we will cease to exist in 30 years. We will not reach our bi-centennial. I am so delighted and enthused with the founding of TOLYJC, for they are our future. We need to put much more energy and creativity to grow our relationships with younger Jews. No matter what manner they associate with the Tree, be it through the A la Carte Model, or some as yet undefined means, we must work together, as our future demands it.
A dear friend from Long Island who sadly passed away too soon was Monsignor Daniel Hurley of St. Rose of Lima RC Church in Massapequa. During his tenure, their membership totaled 6,500 families. Yes, 6,500 families. Their Christmas services were literally every hour on the hour. Well, he used to lament to me about what he called Submariner Catholics. They would surface twice a year, Christmas and Easter. What I did learn from the Monsignor was that low attendance at regular worship services was not a Jewish problem, but an American problem. Well, my dear congregants, when seven of your Shabbat and weekday regulars are murdered, and seven people don’t step forward, what is a synagogue to do?
We are poised to become the most incredible center for Jewish Life that the United States has ever seen. Now, before you say to yourself, “That poor man. He has lived through such a traumatic year, and now he is delirious.”, I assure you that I am not. We have been holding conversations with potential partners that, if much of it goes well, situates us in a very positive position for a very long time. I am excited about our prospects. Imagine that we do undertake a massive rebuilding. Of what value is this task, the endless meetings, the costs associated, the commitment from communal partners, if so many of our members find no value entering the Tree other than as Submariner Jews? Is there not one adult education class that might interest you, be it how to bake a babka, the fine art of sarcasm, or ripping off your business partner without being caught? Just kidding! Is there a cultural event that would beckon you, or a social event? Will a potential new Tree be a testament to what I like to call “The Edifice Complex”? Will it become a mausoleum to our horrific recent history?
While I do suggest that God brought me here to Pittsburgh for some higher purpose, you brought me here for a more mundane purpose: to reverse this dangerous, negative fall. I cannot do that alone, nor with just the help of our other staff, our officers, board members, and those who have stepped up.
At this very moment, let’s play poker: I call your hand. Either you are all in, or you fold, and permit me to remind you that if you fold, the 30-year clock starts ticking. I invite all of you to be all in. We are poised for this amazing journey. When we re-open, and we most certainly will, I want the entire world to say “Wow. Look at what they have done.” To do anything less disrespects the memory of our eleven martyrs, and gives a victory to the perpetrator of this horror. Do we want an epitaph to appear that says: Poor little Tree, cut down by H? I said these words at the Soldiers and Sailors vigil nearly one year ago: It ain’t happening on my watch. Not now. Not no how. Not never! Are you in with me? Are you? If you are in with me, get up out of your seats, wake up, and say so. You don’t have to be a Southern Baptist! You don’t have to sing “We Shall Overcome”. You just have to be in with me. Are you in? Let me hear you?
Thank you. L’shana Tova Tikatevu V’techatemu. May each of you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.