Three years ago, on October 27, 2018, a white supremacist committed the deadliest attack on Jews in the United States, killing eleven worshippers at a Shabbat morning service in Pittsburgh.
That weekend, I was attending a Shabbaton [program of Jewish learning over the Sabbath] in Thornhill. Since I was staying with an Orthodox family, I did not use my phone during Shabbat. And so, like many in the Jewish community, I found out about the shooting once Shabbat ended.
My heart sank. I read a few articles before heading upstairs and I wasn’t going to mention the news to my hosts until they had seen it for themselves.
That weekend, I had experienced what it is to be guarded by the oasis of time that Shabbat had been for all of us. I recalled Heschel’s words: “The Sabbath is no time for personal anxiety or care, for any activity that might dampen the spirit of joy. The Sabbath is no time to remember sins, to confess, to repent or even to pray for relief or anything we might need. It is a day for praise, not for petitions.” How could we have avoided anxiety and petitions on that day had we not been observing Shabbat?
Around 8:00 p.m., I made my way to the BAYT [Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation] for the planned evening program and concert. Of course, each one of the rabbis and performers addressed the tragedy.
Rabbi YY Rubinstein said, “Some of you might have wondered whether this event would get cancelled in light of the devastating news. But, under no circumstances would we cancel our event because, if we cancelled our celebrations every time there was a Jewish tragedy or an anniversary of a Jewish tragedy, then we would never have celebrations.”
The Zusha band reflected similarly saying, “Every Jew is a part of the body. We have to sing and pray and keep Shabbat eleven times stronger now.”
Here is a clip of YY Rubinstein’s remarks, which I have been making a point of revisiting each year on the anniversary of this attack.
We keep singing.