The enormity of the world’s grief: racial hatred and tikkun olam

A bank of candles, melted and slumping, but still glowing bright, shines before a box filled with mementos of the Beloved Dead.

I wrote our ritual script for Samhain, which was a joy to do, even if it was also a lot of work — I think there’s something extraordinarily beautiful about creating liturgy. But after the events of the past week, we knew we had to call an audible. This is my recreation of what I said, mostly off the cuff; it’s the closest thing to a sermon I’ve ever delivered in ritual.

Yesterday, in Pittsburgh, a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue. It was morning services, and there was a bris, a celebration of new life. That gunman killed eleven people. I want to say their names:

Joyce Fienberg
Richard Gottfried
Rose Mallinger
Jerry Rabinowitz
Cecil Rosenthal
David Rosenthal
Bernice Simon
Sylvan Simon
Daniel Stein
Melvin Wax
Irving Younger

And on Wednesday, in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, a suburb of Louisville, a man walked into a Kroger grocery store and started shooting. He killed two people, Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones.

The gunman in Jeffersontown is white; his victims were black. When confronted by a white bystander, the gunman said “Whites don’t shoot whites.” The gunman in Pittsburgh, before he began shooting, yelled “All Jews must die.”

We live in a hard time, a time when the evil of racism is bold, and doesn’t even bother to hide its face. I wish to be very clear that at Three Cranes Grove, we stand firmly in opposition to this hate. If you look on the back of your Order of Ritual, you’ll see this statement: “Three Cranes Grove, ADF, reaffirms that we are a safe space. We seek a diverse, joyful community to gather around our fire in fellowship with the Spirits: we seek diverse voices; we accommodate those of differing needs; we honor your identity. No matter your race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or gender identity, our good fire welcomes your good heart.”

I would expand on this statement and say to any who may hear that we welcome all people of good will to our fire, without question of any marker of identity. And further, to any who hold any animus toward others because of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, creed, or aught else: you are not welcome here. Your values are inimical to the druidry we hold dear.

Our bardic group meets weekly to eat and rehearse together, and on those Monday nights we talk a lot about the world and our place in it. One of the ideas we keep coming back to is the Jewish concept of tikkum olam, the necessity and the obligation of “repairing the world.”

I’m not Jewish, and I wouldn’t claim to understand all the nuances of tikkun olam. But I am an avid researcher of texts, and one that often comes up in association with tikkun olam is this adaptation of Rabbi Tarfon’s words in the Mishnah, Pirkei Avot:

Do not be daunted
by the enormity
of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated
to complete the work,
but neither are you free
to abandon it.

To all who have suffered violence because of their race, their ethnicity, their gender identity, their sexual orientation, their creed: We see you. We remember you. We honor you. May your names be remembered in the hearts of all, an eternal blessing.


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