Is It Safe?

“Is it safe?” They asked me.

Over and Over.
Is it safe at night? Safe for women? For “Whites”?
Will you be able to walk the dog? To drive?
Will you run out of water?
Is the country safe? The city? The neighbourhood?
Did you choose a “good” street?
Is there off-street parking? Electric fencing? An alarm?

And each time, with whatever reassurance I could give,
came also this question back from me,
“Is anywhere really safe, these days?”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This week, in South Africa, Jewish communities joined in the Shabbos Project – a country-wide observance. At our #ProudlyProgressive temple, we had a weekend full of awesome and well attended inclusive, egalitarian events and services. A Challah-Bake; A T’fillin-Wrap Minyan; A music-filled Erev Shabbat T’fillah.

And yesterday morning, a Temple Israel unity service – with all of us in one location, celebrating Shabbat together with music and learning and five rabbis (2 of them women) and two guitars, and nusach and chazzanut and harmonies.

And, a baby naming (two fathers, who wouldn’t have access to this ritual anywhere else in the city).

And at the end, lots and lots of food.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On Shabbes afternoon, when people were being slaughtered in another part of the world, and I didn’t yet know,
I was elated – celebrating the end of a hot morning with a dip in the pool,
with new friends who are like family;
with my dog;
with a call to my mom to share my absolute joy at this new life I have landed myself into.
Then, home to watch the rugby, as one does here,
and then

the call. the channel change to CNN. the tears.

If I had been moving to Pittsburgh last month, no one would have asked me, “Is it safe?”
But there I was, in South Africa, tucked up on the couch with the dog,
behind our security gate and the front door gate and the bolted door (of course),
and my Shabbat morning had been safe –
I hadn’t even given it a thought, though I greeted the guard on the way in
(through the temple’s security gate)

and that baby was safe in the arms of her fathers
and they will have beautiful sun-soaked memories
and there,
in Pittsburgh, another baby’s simcha was shattered,
and lives were lost

Bubbies and Zadies laying in blood
in the place they came to pray and celebrate
and be in community

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It is beyond belief.

It is all too believable.

it was only a matter of time


how, in this day and age . . .
how indeed?

We know the answers.
We know these are dark times
and that they will pass
and better times will be had.

Other babies will be welcomed in safety
but it may get worse before it gets better

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I am far from home
I am a rabbi who’s worst nightmare just happened to another rabbi,
where it should have been safe
but wasn’t

I don’t have all the words yet
to express the sorrow
the rage
the hope

But this is what I know:

As evening fell, I went back to my new shul
to my new home
to my new family.
I was held and comforted and fed and distracted.
There was Torah study and music and wine.
And with guitar in hand I led Havdallah with my new colleagues
because we are rabbis and that is what we do
we lead these moments no matter what –
whether the Shabbat was beautiful or horrific or both,
just as so many rabbis in America led Havdallah last night with vigil candles
with tears streaming
with words of comfort being sought and found
just as they, and we, will continue to lead the way in the days to come.
Held by our communities even as we hold them.

Across borders
Across continents
Across the room

This is a day when we are all together. Grieving. Singing. Ending one week into the next.
Knowing there will be better Shabbatot ahead and worse
Knowing there is work to be done
and slivers of heaven in among the brokenness

My heart is in Pittsburgh. My home is in Africa.
And Canada
And Israel
And yes, even America, even still.
And wherever there is a Jew in need

Home is sometimes the place that is safe
And sometimes it is not
and it is still home
and we hold each other
until we can make it safe again.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb serves Temple Israel Cape Town Progressive Jewish Congregation in Cape Town, South Africa.¬† This blog was originally¬†posted on Rabbi Gottlieb’s personal blog.¬†