On my way into synagogue, a member of my congregation remarked to me: “After seeing that Temple Beth Abraham was a polling place, I was so very proud after Pittsburgh to see my shul embracing its civic duty.”
It has always been important to me that our synagogues embrace the fact that we do not stand alone, but rather, are part of the communities in which we reside. The Jewish community’s vigilance with security is understandable, but we cannot build fortresses to keep others out. We also have to be able to let people in — our own members, visitors from other Jewish communities, and our neighbors.
As one of the Torah’s most basic tenets says: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Being a polling place for the neighborhood symbolizes this important connection. I believe having your neighbors know you is also good security. They provide eyes and ears to our institutions.
But neighborliness and its benefits go far beyond that. In 2015, after the brutal shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina, the members of Temple Beth Abraham, old and young, wrote condolence cards to the members of the First AME Church of Oakland (FAME). That small act of kindness yielded gigantic benefits of friendship. We did very little, but the church has been eternally grateful, inviting our congregation to attend special services, honoring me with a “FAME Partner” award, and having me speak there on several occasions.
When tragedy struck Pittsburgh, the first call I received was from their minister, the Hon. Rev. Dr. Harold Mayberry. A minyan of their members joined us the following Tuesday for an interfaith memorial service in honor of the victims. A few days later, I had an envelope of condolence cards and letters from their members.
In addition, members of my other colleagues’ churches also came to that service, including the Lakeshore Baptist Church, the Piedmont Community Church, Christchurch East Bay and several churches from the Catholic Diocese of the East Bay, including Bishop Michael Barber. Not only were their “thoughts and prayers” with us, but so were their bodies. Synagogues across the country had similar experiences.
During the service, I mentioned that one purpose of the service was to let our community know that we were not alone. We also have to reciprocate, as we did after South Carolina, to let other communities know that they are not alone either. Because tragedies have taken place at churches, mosques, Sikh Temples and LGBTQ nightclubs as well. We must reach out as neighbors and let them know that no community is alone in its struggle.
As one of the members of the First AME Church put it: “Faith is the answer and our common foundation. We send love and healing to you in the days, months and years ahead.” After all, the Hebrew word for neighborhood, shechuna, has the same letters as one of God’s names, Shechina. May change begin at our polling places, and may our friendships with our neighbors build from there.