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Toward Shabbat: Behukkotai

On Wednesday morning I received an alert with new information about the mass shooting in Uvalde: The 19 children and two teachers that were murdered had all been in one classroom (actually two connected classrooms). Why this information hit me like a knife in the heart, I don’t know, but it did. It made the deadly scene more clear and real. I felt like I could picture it. All of a sudden the numbness, fog, and disbelief I had been experiencing since hearing the news on Tuesday evening disappeared and the floodgates opened. It finally hit me. It was hard to hold it together—to breathe. 

I distinctly remember my own 4th-grade classroom. My teacher was Mrs. Unger, and I remember the names and faces of many of my classmates. I remember where I sat. When I was 10, I didn’t worry about terrorists or consider that a gunman might come into a school or a supermarket or a synagogue or the subway and kill indiscriminately (while discriminating at the same time). My own 4th-grade daughter, upon seeing the news of the most recent gun violence and murder on the subway, asked, “Mom is it safe to ride the subway?”

Welcome to America.

In Pete Seeger’s famous song “Where have all the flowers gone?” (I grew up listening to the Peter, Paul, and Mary version), we encounter the beauty of flowers that grow and young love that blossoms, disrupted by a world filled with violence, war, and pain. In the song, the cycle of suffering never ends. Seeger asks the questions, “Oh, when will they ever learn? Oh, when will they ever learn?”

That is the question that has sunk in so deep in these last years. When will we ever learn? We thought we would learn after Columbine or Sandy Hook. But more names of towns and cities have been added to the list: Parkland, Buffalo last week, Uvalde this week—and that’s just to name a small number of them.  

It is unfathomable to imagine getting kids ready for school in the morning, saying goodbye at drop off, to never return. Not on the schoolbus, not at dismissal. It is unimaginable, though shockingly unsurprising. There is so much to say and at the same time there is nothing to say at all.

Most importantly, let us hold the memory close of all those who were murdered. Let us pray their families find a small measure of comfort amidst the devastation. 

נֵ֣ר ה’ נִשְׁמַ֣ת אָדָ֑ם

The candle of God is the soul of a person 

Proverbs 20:27

Alexandria Aniyah Rubio, 10 

Layla Salazar, 10 

Irma Garcia, teacher 

Jailah Silguero, 10

Jackie Cazares, 9

Annabelle Rodriguez, 10

Amerie Jo Garza, 10

Eva Mireles, teacher

Jose Flores, 10

Xavier Lopez, 10

Uziyah Garcia, 9

Eliahna “Ellie” Garcia, 9

Eliahna Torres, 10

Rojelio Torres, 10

Alithia Ramirez, 10

Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, 10

Makenna Lee Elrod, 10

Nevaeh Bravo, 10

Tess Marie Mata, 10

Miranda Mathis, 11

Maite Yuleana Rodriguez

Two days after the beloved 4th-grade teacher, Irma Garcia, was murdered, Joe Garcia, her husband of 24 years, went to her memorial to drop off flowers. Broken by grief, he died of a heart attack.

Where have all the flowers gone? They’ve gone to graveyards, everyone. Oh when will we ever learn? Oh when will we ever learn?

With broken hearts, with raging anger, in profound grief for the lives lost and for the disgrace of this country, we must let it sink in, all of it. If we don’t, we may never learn.

 הַיּוֹצֵא לַשָּׂדוֹת אוֹ לַגִּנּוֹת בְּיוֹמֵי נִיסָן וְרָאָה אִילָנוֹת פּוֹרְחוֹת וְנִצָּנִים עוֹלִים מְבָרֵךְ בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ׳‎ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁלֹּא חִסַּר בְּעוֹלָמוֹ כְּלוּם וּבָרָא בּוֹ בְּרִיּוֹת טוֹבוֹת וְאִילָנוֹת טוֹבוֹת וְנָאוֹת כְּדֵי לֵהָנוֹת בָּהֶן בְּנֵי אָדָם:

Maimonides teaches in the Mishneh Torah (Blessings 10:13) that if one goes out into the fields or gardens in the spring and sees the trees in bud and the flowers in bloom, one says, “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who has made Your world lacking in nothing, and has produced in it goodly creatures and good and beautiful trees to delight in with human beings.”

May there come a day when the flowers won’t be gone to graveyards, but will be a sign of goodness and beauty. May we build a community and a country that doesn’t lack—for safety, for dignity, for equality, and for the inalienable rights endowed by our Creator of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. May we learn. May we never again have to ask the question, “Where have all our children gone?” We must learn.

Shabbat Shalom.