Jews gathered in Bozeman at 7:45 p.m Saturday to spend the final hours of Passover, contemplating, not our past redemption from Egypt which is the focus of the beginning of the holiday, but our firm belief in a bright future with the onset of a messianic era. We spoke about the spiritual enlightenment of that future time, but, more importantly, we spoke of the physical implications: no war, no hunger, no homelessness, no division, no animosity. Oh, it felt so real, so close, so palpable.
At 9:45 PM, while transferring our Passover kitchen items to storage and bringing back our year-round “leavened” utensils, I turned on my dormant phone that, in following Jewish tradition, had been off for 48 hours. Instantly, my excited heart sunk, my inspired soul was punctured, my stimulated mind froze. Not again, not another Pittsburgh, not another Jerusalem, not another Paris.
It did happen again. This time at my sister center in Poway, California.
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein is 20 years my senior, but we are brothers in arms. His center in Poway, as well as our Montana centers in Bozeman, Missoula and Kalispell, was molded with love and joy by our beloved mentor Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory. It’s a place where Judaism comes alive, where smiles are contagious and where Judaism’s 3,000-year-old wisdom is taught with depth and practicality. Our centers the world over are staffed by rabbis and rebbetzins, couples that are devoted community leaders, who, together with their children, build homes for all to celebrate, no strings attached, no judgment ever passed.
It was into this sacred space that a 19-year-old terrorist brought death and horror. It was yet another attempt of evil trying to crush the infinite happiness and holiness that radiates from Jews and Judaism. My maternal grandfather survived Nazi Germany, after losing six siblings and his parents. My paternal grandfather survived many wars as he fought for the survival of his people in our eternal homeland Israel. Growing up, hearing their stories, I never thought that this hatred would be expressed so violently in my beloved America.
Sadly, it was.
Yet, amid the pain and grief, mourning the murder of Lori Gilbert Kaye, digesting the injuries of Rabbi Goldstein, Almog Peretz and Noya Dahan, contemplating my responsibilities as a rabbi to include security, training and safety measures, my belief in a messianic era was reaffirmed. As blood was gushing from Rabbi Goldstein’s fingers, before the ambulances even made it to the horrific scene at the synagogue, he stood up on a chair outside his Chabad Center and proclaimed to his heartbroken congregation “Am Yisroel Chai”, meaning “the Jewish nation is alive”.
Later, after undergoing extensive surgery, he beseeched America to introduce a “moment of silence” into our schools, so that America’s children would have a daily opportunity to contemplate their Creator and the meaning of life, which would help guide them to live a happier, more fruitful life.
President Donald Trump, Gov. Gavin Newsom, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and so many other leaders reached out to Rabbi Goldstein and supported the Jewish community at large. We have seen an outpouring of love and support from so many, expressing Americas true colors. We have seen the best that America and the American way of life has to offer. Yes, we have bad apples everywhere, including in Montana, but Jewish Americans and all those who adore our country and its founding principles, will not be deterred. The Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Byzantines, Ottomans, Spaniards, Bolsheviks, Third Reich, and every other entity that tried to destroy us are gone, remaining only in sad history books, and those who’ve sought religious freedom and spread light, are thriving. Am Yisroel Chai.
No, my belief in a messianic era hasn’t weakened, it’s been strengthened. Rabbi Goldstein gave me a taste of Messiah, a total transformation of darkness into light, of tragedy into a time of inspiration. For the time being, until the arrival of Messiah himself, every time I think Messiah, I will think of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein’s courage and faith, which will serve as a reminder to me that, ultimately, goodness will always prevail.
Am Yisroel Chai!