One Year Later…

The following are the comments I presented October 28, 2019, at Manhattanville College with Hillels of Westchester for the interfaith community vigil for the Pittsburgh Tree of Life shooting.

May their memories eternally be for a blessing.

I have to admit something.  I almost didn’t come here this evening.  In full transparency I felt a bit of resistance and almost succumbed to it using myriad justifications as to why…

  • My son isn’t feeling well and I had to bring him home early from school today.
  • I’m leaving the Country in a few days to speak at an international medical cannabis conference and I’m just swamped with work.

Sure, I could find a reason if I needed to avoid what this evening represents… and if I did that, two things would happen:

I would not be acting as a person of integrity, and…

I wouldn’t be holding myself accountable — to myself — or to you… 

Because the fact is I’m no longer the Cantor leading the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh… and since the victims of last year’s heinous massacre have no physical presence on this planet… they don’t care if I speak or not.

Yet for these two reasons… it was imperative that I show up, be present, and stand in front of you this evening.

What I’ve come to realize more and more as I’ve gotten older, and held sacred witness to atrocities and traumas committed on large and intimate scales, is there is one common denominator for us as humans…

Too many people do not care about acts that affect others.  

For those who do care, effecting change is slow, and often excruciatingly difficult work.  

So what’s the point really?  

Is nihilism at an all-time high?  

Are we, as human beings, mostly numb to what has become a dizzying incessant  onslaught of newsworthy, shock intended, horror laden news clips and sound bytes?


Maybe despite the outcries of every parent who has lost a child in any of last year’s shootings alone… in places like Pittsburgh, or days later, November 7th, in the Thousand Oaks western club… a place, like Tree of Life… I personally knew of, and had been to, when I lived not far from there many moons ago.

We all shudder with news of a tragedy in our homes, with our families, communities, and Country, but then the ripples fade. And we wonder…

Are our efforts in vain?

Why should I continue to put myself out there to speak or share my experience… who is listening?  Does anyone care? Most importantly, does it change anything? 

It does.

Speaking our truth — sharing our experiences — enhances our humanity.  

We are not humans trying to be spiritual, but spiritual beings having an often painful human experience.

Yet it is how we voice our vulnerabilities around these experiences, our fear, our hidden truths, and sometimes our deepest shame or guilt, that we create something greater and wholly necessary for our lives in each incarnation.

We remind ourselves that despite what has happened — to, through, or FOR us— (if you really want to shed the “victim” mentality, try reframing experiences that way) the purpose is to remind us of something much greater and more powerful than what we survive on the base human level.  

I’ll say it again.  

We are more than human beings.  We are spiritual beings navigating a human paradigm.  We are all Divine BEings — souls — and a soul has no recognizable facial features, no ethnicity, no gender, no color, no ability to hate or be hated, or to incite violence whether against ourselves or anyone else.  

And this is where I connect back to my first point about being a person of integrity.

I’ve recently completed a program in NYC called the Landmark Forum.  It’s been around for many years and I’ve had many friends go through it — all of whom told me the same thing… this program has the potential to change your life.  

It did.

That’s saying a lot too, because I’ve always considered myself one of those “good” types of people who isn’t exactly shy or retiring when it comes to standing atop a soap box shouting (or singing) loudly and proudly about important measures that can change lives, and our society, and our planet!

Even with my twenty plus years as Clergy, a healer, spiritual counselor, and an advocate/activist in the cannabis industry I got it. I still needed to check in on how I am being a person of integrity while I continue to do my “good work in the world” — pushing for legalization and societal reform necessary to shift a system that is fraught with stigma and social injustice otherwise known as institutional racism…

Even with all that…

I still needed a wake up call about what it means to be a person of integrity.

To be a person of integrity is to live with clarity, consciousness, and the ability to make real change through strong choices — to open ourselves to a realm of possibilities.  

That’s what I am doing now by admitting to you I almost gave in to my feeling upset and resistant to remembering… and reliving… the memory of last year’s vigil… and why we had to gather in the first place. 

No-one would blame me.  Many would resonate with my reticence.  Yet if I had backed out of my commitment… I would not be living in integrity.

Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do, long after the mood you said it in has left you.

I stand here because of a commitment I made and in the hopes that anything I share, whether from a place of strength, or sadness, still resonates.  Maybe something I say will shift your energy, perception, or mood.

The mood of this Country fluctuates within a short period of time following every atrocity we suffer through.  Every shooting. 

We shift too after every painful personal experience — every accidental death of a teen we knew after prom — every divorce.  

All the painful pieces our human body and brain registers stick somewhere — in our cellular memory, actually.  If we stuff it down without giving it a place to land, be expressed and integrated… if we succumb to numbness then the answers to my questions above have already been answered by inactivity… through our silence… quiet resignation — tolerance — or ignorance.

From those places we cannot and do not evolve as a human species.  We do not honor why we chose as souls, to even do this swing around the merry go round again.  

That is not what souls are meant to do.  

It’s not why we incarnate into human form and being… which crave sensation, connection with other physical bodies designed to share and express through joy, love, intimacy, fulfillment through the work of our hands… 

Literally we share and elevate our humanity through blood, sweat, sex, and tears.

That’s commitment.  That’s integrity. That’s purpose and intention manifested for a life well lived.  

That’s the only thing that would matter to the 131 people dead in the 23 mass killings this year ALONE.  That’s the stat gathered just from the first seven months of this year — which is almost as many souls who left the Earth in all of the mass killings that took place in 2018 (25 mass killings and 140 dead)..  

So how we do stand in integrity with those stats?  How do we make sense of this? Why are we standing tonight in vigil with candles?  

Because you are those candle flames.  I see in each of you celestial Divine lights — sparks of compassion and consciousness that actually have the power to create change, transmute pain, and transcend the worst parts of our human experience, understanding their necessity as catalysts for our greatest growth.

Shortly, you’ll be going outside to hold your candles in vigil.  As you contemplate your individual flames I ask that you consider this quote by George Bernard Shaw, from “Man and Superman.”

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.  I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

Go and burn brightly beautiful ones.  Be honest and brave. Embrace the darkness but trust your integrity and commitment — your light — will keep that necessary shadow tethered to the dark from whence it came.  

So it is and so it shall be.

Image: “Technicolor Fall” by Yonah Adler on IG @y_o_n_a_h

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