By Alan Teperow
Nachamu, Nachamu Ami – Comfort, Comfort My People.
Our summer jaunts to the beach may have been peaceful, but they didn’t provide the kind of comfort many of us needed this summer. In a recent Shabbat sermon, Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz referenced these prophetic words of Isaiah, suggesting that the kind of inner peace we seek only comes when we are together with fellow Jews, in our synagogues and communities.
Not unlike the Jews of Isaiah’s time, I have felt sad and rudderless this past summer – totally consumed by the situation in Israel while suffering the loss of two close friends, barely in their 60’s. What does one say to make sense of such tragic events? How do we come to understand the loss of life, both here and overseas, at far too young of age? Where do we go for community and healing during these sad moments? How does one reconcile the killing of innocent civilians with the need for Israel’s security? Why does God allow such pain and suffering in the world?
Some people have staunch opinions in response to these questions; others hold firm beliefs that guide their answers. To me, as a proud Jew and Zionist, I am constantly struggling to address these concerns. But we don’t have to look far for comfort, whether in intimate communal settings or large public gatherings. I look to my synagogue and rabbis for clarity, consolation and healing. Our Jewish community, with its multiple rallies in support of Israel, brings people together in a way that shows solidarity and a strong sense of community.
I vividly remember how comforted I was after 9-11 when we gathered in synagogue and, as is our custom, remembered the victims at services on Shabbat. I recall how, during each consecutive conflict between Israel and its enemies, the closeness of my fellow worshippers brought relief and support. I am always inspired by the words of my rabbis who somehow seem to understand and capture the essence of each difficult situation with such clarity, wisdom and guidance during these tragic moments.
It is also the beautiful music of our cantors – especially during those times when we come together to voice our individual or collective agony – that transcends the spoken word. El Moleh Rachamin and Mizmor L’David are sung to haunting melodies that speak directly to my soul during such times of vulnerability and loss.
Personally, I have received much comfort from the synagogue at sad times in my own life, most notably upon the death of my stepson, Sam. Our rabbis provided extraordinary kindness, guidance and love during this most trying time.
Nachamu, Nachamu Ami. May the comfort we derive from our liturgy and religious leaders bring strength to the bereaved and provide meaning and compassion to those in search of a spiritual home.