Shavuot and Orlando

Completing my observance of Shavuot, a celebration of the revelation of Torah, I find myself reaching for any words to respond to the death and destruction that took place in Orlando.

On Saturday night at 2am, over 500 of us were at the 14th Street Y–celebrating our culture, expressing our identity, studying the Torah. Shavuot celebrates the acceptance of Torah, the narrative tradition and law that informs and regulates our lives.

What a blessing.

While we were celebrating in New York, a few hundred young people were celebrating and expressing their identity in a nightclub in Florida. Seeking and feeling acceptance and a night of safety in a world that all too often denies that expression to gays and lesbians. Until a hateful person, whose combustible combination of ideology and psychology were well-recognized, took his legally-purchased guns and murdered at least 49 beautiful people, wounding scores of others.

What a curse.

The Torah that we accept each Shavuot tells us that we can choose blessing or curse.

We can choose the consequences of lawlessness that masquerades as freedom. Or we can choose the blessing of regulations, the rule of law that limits the freedom of the individual for the sake of the greater good.

As a Jewish leader, as a community leader, I commit myself to working towards greater regulation—an acceptance of the responsibilities of freedom. To do whatever it takes to protect all of us from those of us who are driven by zealotry, or illness, or immaturity, to their easy access to weapons of mass destruction.

As mass shootings happen nearly every day, time and again I have worked to educate myself. What do we say to children?

What does Jewish law have to say? How can I organize for tighter gun regulations, and work to temper unchecked freedom with regulations that allow for public safety, security, and well-being??

I hope that you will join me not only in learning, but in acting. The local organization that I am choosing to get involved with is Metro IAF. Let me know where you are involved, and other ways to help be part of the solution.

At a time of grief, Jewish sensibilities teach us that we should not be alone; instructing us to come together, to listen to each other, to hold each other.  As many of us are hurting, angry, grieving, or frightened, now is the time to be together in community. Please let me know how I, our staff, and the 14th Street Y can be a place of refuge and community for you at this difficult time.

The trajectory from Passover to Shavuot, from slavery to the acceptance of responsibility, is the path towards redemption. May we work together to choose the regulations that allow blessings to overcome curses, to come together in community to comfort and support each other, and may we see some of that redemption in our lifetimes.

L’shalom (To peace),

Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein
Executive Director
14th Street Y