It was a difficult weekend for the Jewish community. Even as stores were crowded and job creation increased, as we prepare for Tu B’shvat (the new year of the trees) and a new congressional session, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot and songwriter Debbie Friedman died.
At a time when we need them most, one powerful voice of reason and understanding has been silenced for the moment. And one gentle voice of comfort and compassion has been stilled forever.
I do not know Rep. Giffords - though it is not hard to imagine her just as she is portrayed: open, kind, disarming, helpful. Perhaps, paradoxically, while her voice cannot now be heard directly, it can be echoed and multiplied throughout the halls of Congress as her colleagues realize that it is in such tones of honor and respect that the business of this country must be conducted.
Meanwhile, I wait for those on the right to begin to speak about the role of rhetoric in the public debate.
We will only know how much the gunman was influenced by talk radio and the vitriol and lack of respect for government and our public servants as time goes on. But it is past time for us to roll back the language and the symbols of hatred (no more cross-hairs on congressional districts, no more guns at rallies) and to stop the winking and nodding at the implications that the word “revolution” conjures up without realizing that it is but step from symbol to action.
Would that Glenn Beck and Rush and the others who traffic in language of hate ‘fess up to the danger and change their tune.
I did, however, know Debbie Friedman. I had the privilege of working with her when I helped found the National Center for Jewish Healing. And I had the privilege - like so many thousands - of being transported by her rousing, soothing, embracing concerts.
You could hear in Debbie’s voice the joy, the passion and the compassion of her spirit every time she sang. And you could feel her arms around you as she chanted her signature prayer for healing, standing - it seemed - at the very edge of the stage, slowly, imperceptibly turning so that her gaze, and her wishes, could could fall upon every single person in the room.
Her melodies are found in hundreds of congregations across the country. They are hummed and strummed by folks who might not even know she wrote them. Her music has enlivened modern Judaism in ways we have not yet begun to know.
And in this one weekend of tragedy, we see the weaving together of these two lives, for we are being asked to sing Debbie Friedman’s prayer of healing, Mi Sheberakh for Representative Giffords.