Dear Friends,

Jewish Traditions around mourning and burial are very ancient, and very wise. The Tradition outlines five stages of mourning.  The first period is that between death and burial; this period is called aninut.  During this time despair is most intense.  As Maurice Lamm writes in his book, The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, the person who has lost a loved one[1] “is in deep distress, yanked out of normal life, and abruptly catapulted into the midst of inexpressible grief.  He is disoriented, his attitudes disarranged, his emotions out of gear.  ‘The deceased lies before him,’ as the Sages said, and, psychologically, he is reliving the moment of death every instant during this period.”[2]During the period immediately following the death, the mourner must take care of many details, arranging for the funeral, notifying friends and family.  Because he or she is in such a despairing state, he or she may not conduct normal business during this time. In fact, the mourner is exempted from many other social and religious obligations.

The second period consists of the first three days following the burial, days devoted to weeping and lamentation.  During this time, the mourner remains in his or her home (except under special circumstances).  Though friends and community come to the mourner’s home for shivah, visiting is usually discouraged-it is simply too early to try to comfort the mourner, because the pain of loss is too great.

The third stage is shivah, the seven days following the burial (this includes the first three days).  During this time, the mourner begins to emerge from the stage of intense grief to a new state of mind, in which he or she can begin to talk about the loss and accept comfort from friends and neighbors.  The initial shock begins to wear off, and the mourner begins the slow and tenuous return to the world of the living.

Lamm, an Orthodox rabbi, acknowledges that there are times that we find ourselves as “discretionary mourners,” those who feel the need to mourn the loss of a loved one, though we are not halachically, or legally, required to do so.

I know that many, if not most of us, have moved through the world this week in a state of shock and anguish, since first hearing the news of the terrible shooting in Orlando.  Though we did not lose one of our immediate seven relatives, we may have felt the deep distress that characterizes the state of aninut:  our world has been turned upside down, and we cannot regain our equilibrium.

Some amongst us may have felt that shock more intensely than others:  because you are gay, lesbian, transgender, bi-sexual, or queer ; because you yourself were recently dancing in a different gay nightclub; because you yourself may have been the victim of hate-filled violence and/or homophobia; or because you yourself may have lost loved ones through tragic or violent circumstances.  None of us can possibly know what gets stirred in the heart of another when such a tragic and senseless act like this takes place.

During the stage of aninut, many people try to just get through each day, taking care of whatever business must be done, tending to basic personal needs.  It is hard to think beyond the most immediate, toward the future.

That has certainly been true for me this week.  While walking around in my own sense of shock and anguish, I have had to take care of my other daily obligations:  meeting with bar and bat mitzvah students and prospective members; working on both the Pride Service and the 13th Year Anniversary Service; managing the endless emails and phone calls that are part of my work.  At the same time, I’ve talked with countless people in our community, trying to help figure out how to navigate the many conflicting needs and preferences of different members of our community:  should we recite Kaddish for the victims of the shooting? What level of security should we have?  Should we organize a community-wide vigil?  If so, when should/could that be?  With whom? Should I or we put out a statement on the shooting?

As much as I wanted to write something earlier in the week, I simply could not; there were too many more immediate details that demanded my time and attention.  And quite frankly, I myself was in too much shock to think clearly.  What could I possibly say that had not already been said by others?  What yet needed to be said?  Could I offer anything that would provide some measure of comfort or solace in the face of such a horrific event?

In consultation with others, I/we decided not to offer another opportunity for us to come together as a community to acknowledge our grief, our horror, our outrage.  A number of us from Kol HaNeshamah attended the Seattle community-wide vigil with Mayor Ed Murray and others at Cal Anderson Park on Sunday evening, the day of the shooting.  We will be gathering this Friday night for Pride Shabbat; Kol Haneshamah will be hosting the community-wide service and dinner.  There will be time for us, as a community, to acknowledge the events of this past week, to pray for healing for those who are still recovering, and to mourn those who lost their lives. We will also remember those who died one year ago in the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.

I do want to offer any of you my support over the next days and weeks.  I am happy to meet, to talk, to listen, to pray with you, to rail with you, or just to sit with you in silence.

I also want to share with you some resources:
To donate in support of the families of the shooting victims, click here. As of today, close to $5 million dollars have been raised.
Sign a letter of condolence to the Orlando LGBTQ community here.
Donate blood.  Find a local blood center here.
To learn more about grief here.
If you would like to get free counseling, if it would be helpful click here.
F0r additional resources, look at the Keshet Website here; they have many wonderful resources (they contributed to our Scholar-in-Residence program this year).
For support for children, go to the The National Child Traumatic Stress Network here: or for Colorín Colorado Tips for Talking with Children About Tragedy in the News (translations available) select this.
Seattle Area Support Groups: or 206-322-2437
Seattle Counseling Service: or 206-323-1768
Crisis Clinic: or 206-461-3200.

Friends, in time we will begin the slow and tenuous return to the regular rhythms of our lives.  As we do, I hope that we will also recommit to working with one another toward more responsible gun legislation in this country.  Taking action in this way is one antidote to despair and hopelessness.

Jewish Tradition guides that when we encounter one who has lost a loved one, we say the words, “HaMakom Yenachem Etchem B’Toch Sha’ar Avelei Tzion Virushalayim.”  “May the Holy One [literally, The Place] comfort you among the mourners of Tzion and Jerusalem,”-and as I often add, “and the world.”  May we indeed find comfort as we gather together this weekend as a loving and supportive community, re-affirming with and for one another the values of the world that we believe in, the world that each of us, in our own way, is helping to bring forth.

Rabbi Zari

[1] According to Jewish Tradition, A “mourner” is one who has lost a mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, or spouse/partner.  These people are required to observe mourning customs.  There are also “discretionary mourners”; those who are not required to mourn, but may feel the need to mourn.
[2] Lamm, The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, Jonathan David Publishers, Inc. 2000.