I made my way to Congregation Shomrei Torah a couple of weeks ago for the interfaith service in response to the killings at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. It was all but impossible to get there because so many cars were heading that direction. With traffic backed up for blocks on all roads in the area, I finally parked near a shopping center and walked close to a mile uphill. Hundreds of others were doing the same.
Shomrei Torah Synagogue is a grand building that sits on a hill overlooking Santa Rosa. Its lights were shining that night as if to guide us toward safety and blessing. If I’m not mistaken, “Shomrei Torah” means something like “guardian of the teachings,”
With no room inside, I stood in the lobby outside the large worship room, which was jam packed. Around me, a young woman sat on the floor practicing Buddhist meditation, and a man in a white turban, probably a Sikh, leaned against the wall. I stood next to my dental surgeon and his wife, members of a Christian congregation. There were Muslim couples, a Catholic priest, Jews and Christians from various denominations, and a number of folks who have little or no interest in organized religion but who wanted their presence felt. It was a glorious gathering called together by a horrible deed.
Led by Shomrei Torah’s Rabbi George Gittlemen and a host of clergy from several traditions, we entered into prayers and songs of solidarity with those who suffer in Pittsburg and elsewhere. The music was wonderfully accessible, deeply expressive of the mood at hand, and by its very nature it invited everyone to sing along. Those of us scrunched into the lobby sang of mourning, protest, and hope along with the throng inside.
The service ended with the Mourner’s Kaddish. “Kaddish” means “holy,” I think, and the prayer is prayed at the time of death and for deceased persons year by year on the anniversary of their death. But the prayer does not mention death at all. It’s a prayer of praise, a call for peace, an affirmation of faith.
Some years ago, Albie Kass, Guerneville’s unofficial Cantor, read an Aramaic version of the Kaddish prayer over the phone to Sonia Tubridy, our consummate musician and piano teacher. Sonia translated it into English as Albie read it to her. I jotted down Sonia’s words just as she said them. When done, she said her translation might upset traditionalists, so she called it “New Age Kaddish.”
Sonia’s translation begins, “May the great Essence flower in our lives. May we learn to let it shine through us so we can augment its glory.” And she rendered the closing lines of the prayer this way: “May that which makes harmony in the cosmos above bring peace within us and among us and to all who dwell on this earth.”
On the Sunday following the terror in Pittsburg, the church I attend sang a brand new hymn to the tune of a Jewish Yidgal or hymn of praise. The last stanza goes like this:
O God, unite us all, no matter how we pray,
and may we work together for a better day—
where all may safely live and have no cause to fear.
May we together seek your peace and justice here.
For me, these lines from a prayer and this stanza of a hymn offer ways to keep faith in difficult days like these.
Bob Jones is the former minister of the Guerneville and Monte Rio Community Church.