Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772 – 1810) was the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov. In his short life he became one of the most creative, influential and profound of the Chassidic masters. From his youth, Nachman followed a path of asceticism and prayer. He emphasized living life with joy and happiness. One of his best-known sayings is, “It is a great mitzvah to be happy.” Another of his well-known sayings, often set to music, is this:
Kol ha-olam kulo gesher tzar me’od. V’ha-ikar lo lifacheyd klal.
“All of the world is a narrow bridge. And the essential thing is not to be [overwhelmed by fear.]”
This year our congregation’s meaningful experience of the yamim ha-noraim, the Days of Awe, was marred by an act of antisemitic hatred directed at our community just after our observance of Yom Kippur drew to a close. Someone left a large Israel flag, defaced in red paint with a swastika and the numerals “14 / 88″ (a white supremacist meme), on the grounds of our temple. The Falmouth Police Department was notified, as was the Anti-Defamation League’s New England office, and an investigation into the incident is underway. We then notified our congregation of what had happened, the steps we had taken, and our intention to review our security precautions and take additional steps to help ensure the safety of our community. The Falmouth Police Department, under the leadership of Chief Edward Dunne, has been extremely supportive, with extra patrols and a visible presence whenever possible.
Believing that the broader Cape Cod community needed to know that such malefactors are present among us, we contacted the media; coverage in print, online and on-air followed. As did a steady flow of supportive and commiserating messages from members of many faith communities and the public at large. Congressman Bill Keating was quick to call to express his concern and desire to be of help.
Needless to say, many members of our congregation shared with me their concern, anger, dismay and fear engendered by this hateful act. Some offered suggestions which will be taken into consideration by our temple’s leadership.
But I wish to return to our friend Rabbi Nachman and his observation about the world as a “narrow bridge”, because I think he offers sound advice in the wake of this incident.
All of life is a contingency; all we know for certain is that we come into life and, at some point, we will leave it. In between, we walk across that narrow bridge, sometimes marveling at the beautiful vistas it affords, sometimes in terror of the abyss the bridge spans. Rabbi Nachman is believed to have suffered with bipolar disorder; he knew the heights as well as the depths of life and he understood a fundamental truth: to get through this life we cannot allow ourselves to be incapacitated by fear.
Our community was on the receiving end of a hateful antisemitic message. But, fortunately, not a soul was harmed, no explicit threats were made and our facilities were untouched. We were far more fortunate than our Jewish brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh and Poway and targeted minorities in El Paso, Christchurch, Charleston, Oak Creek and Orlando.
We have work to do. We have an obligation to be vigilant and be prepared to report suspicious people and activities in and around our congregation; we have bridges to continue building with communities of like-minded people who share our growing concerns over record-breaking numbers of bias crimes; we have the responsibility to find strategies to keep ourselves from becoming overwhelmed with fear as we make our way across that narrow bridge.