Ava Salman told me Sunday morning that the body of Marisa, who had been missing since Wednesday night, had been found late Saturday. She had attended a concert at Sunshine Amphitheater in Albuquerque with a group of friends who had rented a limo. A young woman so full of life that when she danced it was with every cell of her body, she cut her foot while dancing at the concert and went to find a security guard to get a band aid.
According to one of her friends, she followed a 380 pound man wearing a shirt that said "Staff" up a flight of stairs, and no one saw her again. The theater, which often has events geared to a teen audience, had hired the man as a custodian without checking to find out that he was a registered sex offender.
Under the best of circumstances, death destabilizes the living. Sorrow, exhaustion, and confusion are normal; so is anger at the loss. But this violent, criminal act brings us to rage, and my own rage and terror has caused me to tell every young woman I know to be so careful. And yet, who can live with the knowledge that we live in a world where going for a band aid can be fatal?
Still, I tell this story during the Three Weeks as a cautionary tale: the world is dangerous, and to forget it is suicidal.
We need a better vessel than rage, however, in which to express and contain grief. Ava called me because Marisa was Jewish, and Judaism's burial and mourning rituals seemed to be just the vessel for such tragedy. The ritual began yesterday morning in Hyde Park, where hundreds of people who had known Marisa gathered to say good-bye together.
Laughter was a strange presence that morning. The many teenagers, as well as those close to Marisa, kept remembering funny stories and cracked jokes to keep from feeling the cracking heart. After cria, the ritual of tearing a garment to reveal the torn heart, someone said something about my height--the father was quite tall and I reached to do the cut--the congregation once again erupted into giggles. I remarked that laughter must be present because we had gathered to mourn the loss of a young life full of laughter and joy.
At that moment, a hummingbird stopped in mid-air in front of a bouquet of flowers to my left. After darting to it, it then stopped in front of me, and we were face to face. It then flew to the flowers to my right, sipped from them, and took off into the sky. We all saw it. "God was in this place and I didn't know it," Jacob's words in Torah, went through me, and although I didn't know Marisa in life, I knew her presence then. Heschel said, "I cannot see God's face, but I see my mother's face." The hummingbird helped us to see God's face.
After delivering bad news, our tradition has a tender custom of concluding it with, "May we always speak of good." Of course it cannot be so, but it's a sweet and good intention. So I'm concluding with the good news that preparations for High Holidays are well under way, and with God's help (and a few lieutenants) you'll be receiving letters with all the information you need, including the subjects of the High Holiday teachings and reading lists (half kidding).
Please share this message with every teenager you know.
Rabbi Malka Drucker
July 18 A Cautionary Tale
Yesterday we began a low point in the calendar, the Three Weeks from the 17th of Tammuz until Tisha B''v. This is a period in which a remarkable number of catastrophes have befallen the Jewish people, beginning with the Romans scaling the walls of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and supposedly the making of the golden calf. And not just the Jewish people: Remember Hiroshima and other sorrows afflicting all sentient beings at this time.
During the nine days of Av some of us don't eat meat or drink wine except on Shabbat and generally avoid activities that bring joy, such as going to the movies or painting a new room in your house. The Talmud cautions us to exercise restraint, deliberation, and patience in these three weeks of grief. We are forbidden to hit a child and are encouraged to watch our words with each other.
These last incendiary weeks of scorching heat and flame in Santa Fe have underlined the essence this time of caution: despite air conditioning, we are of the earth and the season touches mood and spirit. We awake in the morning taking a wary sniff of the air, and if there is no hint of smoke and ashes, the words of our morning prayers come more easily. This year I refrain from making big decisions, imagine aggravations, slights, and worries as small clouds floating in a vast sapphire sky, and I look for delight and blessing as a thirsty woman looks for water.
I'll close with a note of caution. If HaMakom has pleased you this year, remember that while there is no price we can put upon spiritual well-being, make every effort to show your gratitude. The board is working hard to make it possible for us to continue to provide moments of rich meaning for you and they need your financial and physical support. If HaMakom matters to you, this is the time to let it be known.
Peace and Blessings,
Rabbi Malka Drucker