Friday, June 19, 2015

Dear Mother Emanuel, A Letter of Condolence

Dear Mother Emanuel
June 19, 2015 ~ 3 Tamuz 5775
Rabbi Jen Gubitz
Temple Shir Tikva, Wayland, MA

A letter of condolence to Mother Emanuel, the name by which Charleston’s Emanual African Methodist Episcopal Church is lovingly referred:  

Dear Mother Emanual, we are so profoundly saddened for your loss. We are so profoundly saddened for your losses. For thousands of years, in Jewish tradition, upon hearing of a death, we recite these words - Baruch Da’ayan Ha’emet, Blessed is the True Judge. And we tear Kriyah - we tear, rip, rend our clothing to expose our hearts. We expose our hearts breaking for you and, dare I say, with you.

Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet, Blessed is the True Judge. Our hearts break for and with you, dear Mother Emanuel. But why, and how could we bless God when our hearts break, why and how could we bless God when another’s heart has ceased beating? We bless God because dear Mother Emanuel - Emanuel OR Im Anu El. You have known this truth, Mother Emanuel, for the nearly 200 years you have enveloped the hearts joined in worship, the hearts joined in prayers, the hearts of your children. We bless God dear Mother Emanuel, because you’ve always known that even in darkness, Im Anu El, God is with us.

And because God is with us God is with you, for nearly 200 years, dear Mother Emanuel, you have shown a resilience unmatched. Not without historic labor pains your children were given birth in 1818, “a free church in the heart of the confederacy, before the Civil War ever began”a resilient “spiritual and political [cradle] divorced from the oppressive white institutions all around them.”  And not without growing pains and grief, did you shelter your children’s adolescence and maturity as they sought to free themselves from the most egregious hate and violence. Dear Mother Emanuel, you enveloped your children in refuge as your son Denmark Vesey organized to liberate your enslaved children in a major slave uprising in 1822. And though you were burned to the ground in retribution that year, you would once again rise to envelop your children in your sanctuary. And though you were forced to meet in secret, dear Mother Emanuel - Im Anu El, God was also with you in secret, the psalm reminds, v’shachanti b’tocham, dwelling among us b’mikdash - in your sanctuary of God’s ever present love.

Dear Mother Emanuel, just years after the earth shattering hatred of the Civil War, your sanctuary was rocked once more by earthquake. But rebuilt, and free, your children could finally worship openly again, and into your enveloping sanctuary they entered.And You sheltered Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth, And You embraced Eliza Ann Gardner, and Harriet Tubman, You held Booker T Washington, and Martin Luther King with your resilience unmatched.

Dear Mother Emanuel, we tear kriyah, ripping and rending our clothing in grief as we witness the fabric of our society unravel. Our exposed hearts break; we are a country in need of emergency surgery. Your son, the now slain Reverend Clementa Pinkney, wondered: “Could we not argue that America is about freedom whether we live it out or not? Freedom, equality and the pursuit of happiness.” He reflected, “And that is what church is all about: freedom to worship and freedom from sin, freedom to be full of what God intends us to be, and to have equality in the sight of God. And sometimes you got to make noise to do that. Sometimes you may have to die like Denmark Vesey to do that. Sometimes you have to march, struggle and be unpopular to do that.”His words were sadly prophetic, dying with 8 brothers and sisters, pursuing his freedom to fulfill God’s word.

Dear Mother Emanuel, even with broken hearts and perhaps in spite of them, Clementa’s brothers and sisters will continue to fulfill his prophetic vision of what your church, what your sanctuary is all about. And it is in our capacity to march, to struggle, and to be unpopular with them in the pursuit that all should be equal in the sight of God. Because we will not tolerate a society in which you do actually have to die like Denmark Vesey like Reverend Clementa Pinkney, age 41; like Asst. Pastor; Sharonda Coleman Singleton, age 45; like Tywanza Sanders, age 26, or like Ethel Lance, age 70, or like Susie Jackson, age 87; like Cynthia Hurd, age 54; like Myra Thompson, age 59, or like Daniel Simmons Sr., age 74, or like DePayne Middleton Doctor, age 49.

We cannot tolerate a society in which you do actually have to die to make noise for the kind of equality that drowns out the noise of supremacy and racism. Mother Emanuel, yesterday marked 51 years since 15 rabbis were arrested in St. Augustine, FL, for making noise - the sacred and joyful noise of praying in an integrated group of worshipers.

In fellowship, I invite my community to join together with one of local A.M.E. communities in Boston. We will make noise together, in memory, in anger, and in celebration of the long history and deep friendship shared between the Black and Jewish Communities.

Dear Mother Emanuel, we are so profoundly saddened for your soul wrenching, society rending, heart breaking loss. Ha’rofei lish’borei lev…הָרֹפֵא, לִשְׁבוּרֵי לֵב May the one who mends broken hearts [someday] heal your broken heart…”, dear Mother.  As the psalmist reminds: Karov adonai l’mishbarei lev” –God is close to the brokenhearted. But I believe you already knew that, dear Mother Emanuel.  For every time you recite your Church’s name, you speak into being this eternal truth that even in your darkest hour, Im Anu El, God is with Us.

Charleston and the Age of Obama, The New Yorker.