The day after the bloodshed in Pittsburgh my brother and I played a family concert as part of the 100thanniversary of Shaarey Zedek Synagogue in East Lansing. We’ve played for that congregation a number of times before; this date had been booked months earlier.
It never entered my mind to consider cancelling the concert. That’s not a statement about my courage, but more a reflection of an attitude of “the show must go on” that my brother and I have adhered to… well, religiously, for more than 45 years. Still, the thought of what could happen did of course cross my mind, in the same way that, in the few days following news of an airline crash, most of us, I’m guessing, board a plane with a heightened awareness of the catastrophic possibilities.
Shaarey Zedek’s Rabbi, Amy Bigman, greeted us warmly, and naturally we talked of what had happened less than twenty-four hours earlier. She and her congregation had also been in the middle of their Shabbat morning services when they learned of the tragedy. She and the congregation leadership had decided to not make a public announcement at the synagogue, due to the number of small children at the services. Now she asked us not to refer to the event in our concert either, since our family concert audience that Sunday morning would also include young children. Of course, we agreed; actually, we’d already decided that on our way to the concert.
So, we played the same lively, lighthearted songs we usually do at our family concerts for Jewish audiences. But, of course they now had additional layers of meaning and shading. Our typical opening song features helloin English plus in eight foreign languages, including Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew. You can easily guess what I was thinking about as I was singing. The words of the very familiar “Hine Ma Tov,” How good it is and how lovely for people to live as one… rang particularly apt — and hollow. Still, for the most part, it felt like a typical concert: lots of singing along, enthusiastic and rhythmic clapping, some happy giggling and laughing when we acted out a story about two donkeys who gradually learn that they’ll only get to eat if they cooperate and pull in the same direction. “The moral of our story, the moral of our tale: if you work together, you will never fail.” Right.
And then came the four songs with which we often close our Jewish concerts: the medley of “Am Yisroel Chai,” The people of Israel live, and “Lo Yisa Goy” Lo yisa goy el goy cherev, v’lo yilmedu od milchama.Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, they will study war no more – Isaiah.We ended with “Shalom Chaverim,”Peace friends, a lovely slow round which we medley to the rousing, “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem,” literally We brought you peace, which is often used as a greeting or a farewell.
A few seconds into Hevenu Shalom, people began standing up. By the end of the first repeat, the entire audience was standing, singing and clapping along. I immediately understood that this was not a typical standing ovation. While clearly they’d enjoyed our concert, our audience was not standing for us. It seemed to me that they instinctively got to their feet in response to an ancient and universal human need to stand together with community; to speak out—in this case to sing out, to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, the weak, the broken, the attacked; to stand up and be counted; in a very real sense to live standing upright, rather than remaining seated and silent in the face of evil.