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03/27/2018 01:26:49 PM


Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld

The Great Shabbat

Shabbat Hagadol means The Great Shabbat.  This Shabbat was for me truly The Great Shabbat.  It is a Shabbat I will remember for the rest of my life.

Many Shomer Shabbat teens from around the country wanted to observe Shabbat meticulously but they also wanted to be fully present in the March for our Lives.  So teens from our community sprung into action.  Led by Ezra Einhorn, the teens organized a full program with food provided for Shabbat and arranged for home hospitality for the many guests.

On Friday night I joined the teens for Shabbat dinner.  We had a spirited discussion of how to effectively advocate for one’s position and the importance of activism.  The teens went around the room and all explained why they chose to spend Shabbat in DC and go to the March.

Even though the dinner ended late the teens led a special youth service at 7:45 am on Shabbat morning. Every part of the service was led by teens with one exception.  It is the custom in our congregation for the rabbi to read the haftorah for Shabbat Hagadol.  So I was called to the Torah and honored with the reading of the Haftorah.

Even though I have read this Haftorah many times I was deeply moved when I came to the final verse of the Haftorah: “Ve-heishiv Lev Avot al Banim, the hearts of the parents will turn towards their children (Malachi 3:24).  Here we were on Shabbat Hagadol, 3/24, and I was reading the verse from Malachi 3/24 about parents being shown the proper path by their children.  I felt that the teens this Shabbat were truly living the prophecy of Malachi.

After services we began our 7-mile trek to the March.  Although large parts of DC are covered by an eruv there was no direct connection between our local eruv and the downtown eruv.  There is a gap of around ten blocks that is not covered by an eruv.  So we had an issue about how to carry water and food.  Our teens suggested that we connect with a church that might be able to help us and allow us to store food until we picked it up.  Reverend Thomas Bowen of the office of Mayor Muriel Bowser connected us with Reverend Darryl Roberts of the 19th St. Baptist Church.  Reverend Roberts and I had never met before but he still said he would be happy to help us out.

As we began our walk down 16th street we passed my block and one of my neighbors (of a different faith) asked if she could join us.  My son had told her about our walk.  I of course welcomed her and told her that we were first stopping to pick up our supplies from the church.  She said to me that one of the pastors from that church actually lived on our block!  He moved into DC in the summer and was now our neighbor.

We arrived at the church and many church members came out to greet us.  Reverend Roberts and I embraced and we discovered that indeed he did live on our block and was only four houses away!  It is amazing that we never met each other (I am not proud of that), but I am delighted to have such an amazing neighbor.  I know that we will develop a really close friendship moving forward.

Our synagogue community gathered on the steps of 19th St. Baptist Church with other local churches and we shared powerful words of reflection, prayer, and song led by the children of our respective communities.      

After the vigil ended and our congregation began to continue our walk, one of our members lingered behind.  He approached Reverend Roberts and told him that his grandfather used to be the rabbi of the building that 19th St. Baptist Church is now housed in.  Before it was a church it was a prominent DC synagogue, and indeed, the church has retained the Stars of David throughout the building as a way of demonstrating respect for the builders of the community.  I felt the spirituality of yet another connection with this very special community.

Reverend Roberts and I walked together for the next three miles as we walked towards the march and bonded over a shared passion to serve as a religious leader.  I felt that there is so much darkness that has come to the world as a result of gun violence, but if two communities and a rabbi and a pastor can come together that it represents a brighter path for the future.

After 3 miles of walking with the Reverend the crowd began to thicken so I excused myself and ran to catch up with my wife and our younger children.  

We arrived at the entrance point and started to make our way to the front of the march.  It took us three hours to walk ten city blocks.  Everyone was crammed like a packed train at rush hour.  At times it was so crowded that I was forced to stand on only one foot.  And yet the crowd was respectful and warm and embracing of total strangers.

I don’t remember exactly which speaker made me cry but I know that there were multiple times where I felt tears running down my face.  The most moving moment for me was watching Samantha give her speech.  At one point she excused herself and got sick on the stage.   But as the crowd cheered her on she immediately bounced back and continued her speech.  Even though such a setback would normally prevent people from continuing, her speech got stronger and stronger.  I felt inspired by her dedication and commitment to never “give up.”

After the March our group of teens gathered at a local building for snacks.  J. David Cox, the President of AFGE, had arranged for us to have a room to hold afternoon prayers and Torah study.  More than that, even though he is a very busy many, he joined our group for the last three hours of Shabbat and actively participated in our study session.  

The topic of our Torah study was Pesach and Civil Disobedience.  Even though I have given many Shabbat Hagadol sermons there was none like this one.  This time the topic felt more real than ever before.  The teens spoke passionately about the need to raise a voice when there is an unjust law.  The teens applied the lesson of their day of activism to the words of our Torah and the teachings of our sages.

I felt inspired to be in the presence of such an amazing group of teens as I know more than ever that our future is bright. 

One of the teens, Coby Melkin, shared with me a beautiful Torah thought.  The Torah passage that we read from this Shabbat discussed the idea that Moshe had to place the blood of an offering on the toe of his brother Aaron, the Kohen Gadol.  Coby said to me that the point of this was to show Aaron that true service of God sometimes requires the service of the feet, i.e. walking to do a mitzvah.

That is how I felt this Shabbat.  I felt that every step we took was a mitzvah and a sanctification of the far too many souls who have been brutally murdered as a result of gun violence.

The grim statistics about gun violence are scary and depressing.  But I leave this Shabbat excited and inspired.  We have a new day in DC.  The parents are turning towards the children.  The future is bright!

Mon, July 13 2020 21 Tammuz 5780