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“Eitz Chayim …”: Lo Tishkach!
#1
It’s been 14 months.  Yet, “Lo Tishkach,” we should not forget! 

Where do I begin?  How terrible!  I was both saddened and shocked when I first heard the news.   How horrific!  I submit: “When you start a brush-fire and you keep fanning the flames, something bad is bound to happen.”  And, it did.  I aver: “The slaughter at the Eitz Chayim shul in Pittsburgh could have been avoided.  Yet, when you raise the heat… When you ratchet up the rhetoric, these type of horrendous acts will inevitably occur.  Thus, 11 people were needlessly slaughtered inside the Eitz Chayim synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill section. 
 
When I first heard about it, I was praying it was a mistake.  But it wasn’t.  Then, I thought: “I hope the injuries are limited.”  Unfortunately, they were not.  It was then, at that moment, that reality set in.  I was praying this wouldn’t happen; yet we Jews would be naïve to think it couldn’t happen.  What is so tragic about all this is that it shouldn’t have happened.  Nearly a dozen people (one of the congregants, at the time, was in serious condition in a Pittsburgh hospital).
 
At this juncture, even though it’s been over a year later, I would personally offer my thanks and my praise to Pittsburgh’s law-enforcement community for the courage and bravery they demonstrated in risking their lives to save the congregants inside that “shul”.   I’m sure that the first responders’ quick actions saved countless lives.  
 
If there’s an irony in all this, on that particular Shabbat at Eitz Chayim, there was, according to reports, the joyous occasion of a baby-naming.  In fact, it may have been as the rabbi or chazzan was chanting: “Mi Sheberach Avoteinu…” that “The Monster” entered the sanctuary and started shooting congregants.  
 
I can only image what it must have been like before the “yetzer hara” entered.  A period of happiness.  A “simcha”.  A period of congregational joy as the baby is about to be named.  “L’dor v’dor…”  The shul, as it often is, is a happy place.  A safe place.  Congregants are wishing each other: “Shabbat Shalom”.  Then, suddenly, the unimaginable.  No time to react.  Duck.  Play dead.  The murderer is using a high-powered, assault-rifle, Kalishnikov, AK-15.  He gunning down Jews.  Senseless violence.
 
Moreover, when I hear the words “Eitz Chayim,” many thoughts come to mind.  I think of the temple in Pittsburgh where this terrible slaughter occurred.  I think also of the handles that hold the sacred Torah parchment.  I think of the “hagbah” raising and, with his/her back to the congregation, holding up scripture from the sacred Torah.   I think of Genesis.  The tree of life in the Garden of Eden.  But most of all I think of the prayer we Jews chant as we’re about to put the scared Torah back in its place in the Aron Kodesh: “Eitz chayim hi lamachazikim bah…”  “It is the tree of life for those who cling to it…”  I will say, tangentially, that the one word at the end of that prayer, “k’kedem” – “days of yore,” moves me to tears of remembrance (I’m sure those same tears have flowed from the eyes of family who lost loved ones).   Those who died that day at Eitz Chaim will not be forgotten. “Le’olam lo nishkakh.”
 
Finally, I say to the mourners whose loved-ones were murdered: “Hamo-kem y’na chaym es-chem b’soch sh’or avay-lay tzi-yon viru-sholo-yim.”  “May the Almighty comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”  Amen.  And finally, “Lo Tishkach!”  “Thou shalt not forget.”  Never!
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