If I was to visit the sacred, bittersweet memorial outside of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, dedicated to the eleven holy souls which were slain last Shabbos, I would leave flowers like so many others; but my choice of blossom might be unusual among the devoted large bouquets: just a little cluster of forget-me-nots.
I used to think the name of these flowers was so silly, an over-romantic idiom of the poets. However, in light of the massacre, the name has inspired a deeper meaning for me; I’ve since learned that there is “no man without his hour, and no thing without its place” – including names. Words bear distinct, multilayered connotations, and possess intrinsic creative power, by those that speak, write and hear them in this world. When the crazed anti-Semite stormed the shul, bellowing “All Jews must die!” before open-firing on the community, his choice of words wasn’t simply hostile and offensive; they were murderous in their own right. The spiritual forces that he channeled for evil, spiritually killed others. The G-dly spark invested within each conscious human being, expressed in one way through their speech, can be actualized or abused. Depending on how we choose to utilize it, our gift of speech can either create positivity, unity and light, or G-d forbid the converse of destruction. Choose wisely. Each one of us are endowed with the power to counter the great evil that has been executed in our world and lives. Use your voice to pray and connect to G-d, to learn His holy Torah with focus, to say a blessing acknowledging the Creator of all that is, to promote peace, to sing a song of praise to G-d or extend a word of kindness to raise another’s weary and broken spirit.
Now fortified with this understanding, let us return to our forget-me-nots. Indeed, doesn’t it seem, ironically, that these precious, delicate, tiny flowers most need to express this cry? After all, they are probably often trampled and ignored, cast alone to the wayside as we continue with the whirl of affairs dictating our busy lives. “Forget me not,” they all whisper, “though I may be one,” a single blossom continues, or, “though I may be small,” sighs another. Who can forget the mass-atrocities of the world, against our people in particular that we barely endured, and only by the grace of G-d? Though some will try to rationalize the Inquisition, deny the Holocaust, they have left too deep of a wound upon humanity’s surface to be truly discounted. But all the smaller assaults, and killings of individuals scattered across our history – including the most recent decades – should break our hearts and elicit our tears just as much… even if we didn’t know the victims personally. Why? Every single soul is a unique ambassador to this world of G-dly light and pure, true values. Every soul had either a whole life of possibilities ahead of them, or had already established a solid foundation, family, and legacy of goodness; but all were cut down in their glory. Every soul is bound to ours at their Source and Essence. Every soul is unequivocally, ultimately precious; every soul is the light of life… So why does the striking down of individuals with whom we do not have a close personal connection so often slip our minds with the passage of time?
Last Shabbos, our people lost Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger. Don’t allow their deaths to be in vain. Don’t allow them to be forgotten. Our hearts are broken, but me mustn’t allow ourselves to become paralyzed. Our loved ones so untimely taken away address us with a call to action, now! Let our grieving tears water and nurture the seeds of purpose, kindness, wisdom, harmony and renewal. Speak of their good deeds and qualities, take on a mitzvah or positive resolution in their merit, learn a little Torah – which is poignantly called “Eitz Chaim – a Tree of Life” – to increase light in this darkened world and perpetuate their legacy. “Vehechai yitein el libo – and the living shall take to heart…”
It’s up to you, it’s up to me, it’s up to each and every single one of us, those little flowers remind me; they still softly whisper, “Forget me not…”