The Shabbat and Horrible Tragedy

November 2, 2018

Shabbat. Two weeks ago. America was shocked at the tragic loss of 11 Jews who were shot down in Synagogue in Pittsburgh as they prayed. My grief is intensified because I myself grew up in Pittsburgh. Many were there for a Brit – a circumcision ceremony – an event that should have added more joy to the Sabbath. Thanks to Sally Klein-Katz who shared this poem with me.


WHAT’S YOUR NAME? – by Zev Steinberg

Dedicated to the baby who was to be named at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Shabbat morning, October 27, 2018.

Little boy, what’s your name – do you have one?  

Sweet baby, just eight days, what should we call you? 

I have heard the sacred circumcision postponed for jaundiced yellow, but never before for bloodshed red.

Is your name Shalom? We long for peace in this troubled world. I hope you are Shalom. 

Is your name Nachum? Oh, how we need to be comforted in our grief. I hope you are Nachum. 

Is your name Raphael? Our broken hearts and bleeding souls need healing. I hope you are Raphael. 

You should have been carried high into the congregation on Shabbat morning - past from loving hands to loving hands - on a cushioned pillow to receive your Jewish name. Instead your elders fell and were carried out on stretchers in plastic bags. Their names on tags. 

Is your name Moshe? Our unbearable anguish and rage demands justice. I hope you are Moshe. 

Is your name Ariel? We need the ferocious strength of lions to protect our people. I hope you are Ariel. 

Is your name Barak? We need courageous warriors to vanquish our enemies. I hope you are Barak.

The blood on Shabbat morning was supposed to be covenantal not sacrilegious, sacramental not sacrificial, sacred not unholy. The tears were supposed to be of boundless joy not bottomless sorrow. The cries were supposed to be “mazel tov” not the mourner’s kaddish.

Is your name Simcha? We need an end to sadness by bringing joy into our world. I hope you are Simcha. 

Is your name Yaron? We need an end to mourning by bringing song into our lives . I hope you are Yaron. 

Is your name Matan? We need the gift of children who will bring a better tomorrow. I hope you are Matan.

So little boy, what’s your name? Take them all if you will. Take a thousand names. Be peace and Comfort and Healing. Be 

Justice and Strength and Courage. Be Joy and Song and a Gift to the world. Be every good name and every good thing. 

And, Sweet baby, take one more name if you will – because I hope you will be blessed with a long, blissful, beautiful and meaningful life… 

I hope you are Chaim.


At such a tragic time, I think of another Pittsburgher: Mr. Rogers. I have been thinking of Rogers’ famous remark that “when bad things happen, look for the helpers.” I am convinced that in our America, there are many more good people than bad – and therefore an event like this hits us particularly hard.

May He who creates peace on high bring peace upon us, on all of Israel, and on the whole world.