Saturday, May 23, 2009

Normality and Morality in Riverdale

I attended services this morning at the Riverdale Temple in the Bronx, one of the two synagogues targeted for bombing by the accused plotters arrested Wednesday. I went there in a sense of solidarity and found a morning service with a bar mitzvah that acknowledged the weight of tragedy in Jewish life but leaned toward optimism and the task of healing and transforming a broken world. And that's exactly as it should be.

My cousin's family belongs to the synagogue; I've attended two bar mitzvahs there already. And I know and admire the Riverdale Temple's Rabbi Judith Lewis from her days at Temple Israel on the Upper East Side.

On the night before, as Rabbi Lewis explained to me, the synagogue had been especially crowded with congregants and neighborhood residents reacting to the news of the plot. This morning, when congregants, friends and family observed the bar mitzvah of Frank Jacob Lyon, the general atmosphere resembled earlier services that I had attended on less fearful days.

Frank read in a strong voice, and Rabbi Lewis did her usual excellent job of balancing the particular and the universal in Judaism. She reminded Frank of his obligation to his family, to Judaism, to humanity and the planet--to practice tikkun olam and heal a very broken world.

This was perfectly in harmony with Rabbi Lewis' response to the initial revelations of the plot, as the Times reported on Friday.
Rabbi Lewis’s response to the bomb plot was one of simple resolve: “My message is we go on with our mission.”

On Thursday morning, for example, she woke early to take two candidates who are converting to Judaism to a ritual bath, called a mikvah. “The first thing I asked them was, ‘Are you sure you want to do this after what you saw last night — to tie your fate to a people frequently under this kind of threat?’ ” she said. “They said, ‘Even more so now.’ I cried.”

If the news of the Riverdale plot made me feel lucky and grim at the same time, today's service reminded me that there are still good things to work for in the future.

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