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Community Strength in Times of Tragedy

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Last Friday, 13-year-old Julia Siegler was killed in a tragic accident when she was hit by two cars on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles, as she crossed the street to catch her school bus. Her mother was there and witnessed the horrific event, as well as her classmates, who were in the bus and saw it happen too. While I didn't know Julia or her family personally, she was a member of my community and synagogue.

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Jennifer Ginsberg: The clergy received the news shortly after the accident and Rabbi Feinstein was at the hospital immediately, where he was with the family when Julia was pronounced dead. This was also the morning of the Purim celebration at the preschool, and other clergy members stepped in so the children could participate in the parade that they had been excited about all week.

Later in the day when we received notification of the accident, my first response was complete shock, then horror. Like most moms I spoke to, there was an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and horror. One of my greatest fears is losing my children to an accident or disaster that I am powerless to prevent, and it was terrifying to watch this tragedy unfold in my very community.

There is no platitude or spiritual epithet to attach to this senseless and horrific tragedy. Nor is it appropriate for me to indulgently wallow in my feelings of sadness for Julia's family, given the fact that I don't know them personally. All I can do is offer to help those in my community who were personally impacted by Julia's death. I am grateful to have the opportunity to provide grief counseling for the teenagers in the religious school who knew and loved Julia.

Yesterday, I was at the synagogue when I dropped my son off for preschool and took my daughter to her toddler group. The Rabbi came in to talk to the parents while the children played. As he spoke to us of his experience the morning of the accident and over the past few days as he brought the community together and officiated Julia's funeral, my feelings of sadness and helplessness were replaced with a feeling of love and gratitude.

I wondered what would have happened if the Siegler family had not been members of a synagogue (like many unaffiliated Jews I know). Who would Mr. and Mrs. Siegler called after the accident? From whom would they have received spiritual guidance during the undoubtedly worst experience of their lives? Who would have brought the community together and conducted the funeral?

Many Jews I know choose to not affiliate themselves with a synagogue for reasons varying from "The membership fees are too expensive," to "What's the point? I don't want to go to services."

I have a much different perspective, which has been only solidified over the past few days. Being part of a spiritual community provides me with an incredible sense of belonging, support, and comfort. Over the past few years, my Rabbi has been there for me in countless ways. Most importantly, he was a great source of support when my mom died of cancer two weeks before my daughter was born. He officiated both of my children's baby naming ceremonies, and supported me during times of personal difficulties. He helped me while I planned my stepdaughter's Bat Mitzvah, and officiated one of the most spiritual and sincere services I have ever attended. He has an open door policy and is easily accessible and responsive to all of his congregants.

All I can garner from this horrific and senseless tragedy is a reaffirmation of how important it is to be a part of a loving and supportive community. The idea that I am powerless over the fate of the people I love is much more palatable with the knowledge that no matter what calamity or catastrophe may strike, my community has the power to carry me through.

My hope is that all people who are quick to point out what they perceive as all the problems with organized religion will take a pause and ask themselves a few tough questions. Who would you call if something horrible happened? Who would hold your hand at the hospital? Who would gather around you, bring you meals, and carry you when you were incapable of taking another step?

While organized religion is not without flaws, in my experience being connected is far, far better than the alternative. How blessed I am to be part of this community.


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