I read today that Egypt has closed the last remaining working synagogue in the country — Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria (you can check out the article for yourself here). I can’t find anything about it on the major news sources (NY Times, Huffington Post, etc.) so I’m holding out judgment on whether it’s true or not. That said, I’m not sure that the truth or lack thereof matters, in some fairly significant ways.
I can’t remember the last time a news story made me cry. There are news stories that break my heart. There are news stories that make me sick to my stomach. But this is the first time in a long time that a story has actually made tears come to my eyes.
I am trying to imagine an entire country in which there is no working synagogue. I’m trying to imaging an entire country in which no synagogue gathers to blow the shofar for Rosh Hashanah, in which no congregations gather to atone on Yom Kippur. I’m imagining no little boys running through the synagogue halls, and no little girls trying on their parent’s kippot.
Just the imagining breaks my heart.
It feels like a death to me, and my instinct is to turn to the Kaddish.
It’s what we do when someone we love dies. We rend our garments. We sit shiva – the mourners receiving visitors in order to make up the minyan needed to pray the Mourner’s Kaddish. We pray. And pray. And pray. For seven days. For seven days we sit shiva.
This is what I want to do – I want to sit shiva for a synagogue that may or may not have closed, because the reality is that synagogues are closed. Mosques are destroyed. Churches are burned down. Politics and fear, hatred and confusion, fundamentalism and rigidity so often rule the day. Faiths fight against each other. Faiths fight within each other. Houses of G…d die every day. So what I want is to sit shiva and pray the Kaddish.
Because the Kaddish tells us something so important.
The Kaddish doesn’t talk about death. It doesn’t talk about mourning. It doesn’t talk about sorrow or pain. It talks about the glory of G…d. It talks about peace from Heaven and life upon the people.
It is good and right and just to talk about these things. People mourn. People feel sorrow. I feel sorrow even at the thought of this synagogue closing. But the Kaddish reminds us that there is more. We sit shiva for seven days because then we must stop. We must get up and live our lives. We must remember that the world continues. We pray the Kaddish to remind us of the glory of G…d, even in the midst of our grief.
I don’t mean this to brush away the (questionable) closing of Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue. Truth or not it is painful. Truth or not, the story represents some very real fears about the nature of separatism, religion, politics, and fundamentalism.
But the period of shiva ends. We will mourn and we will move on. The shofar will blow. Children will run. Little girls will try on their parents’ kippot. In Egypt, the prayers for Yom Kippur will be prayed. Faith endures. In small places. In small ways. In new synagogues. In new families.
Faith endures past the mourning.