Of tightropes and narrow bridges

The following remarks were delivered by Rabbi Ariana Katz at the October 28, 2018 at the Rally Against Hate.

This past Tishrei/September, over the High Holy Days, I found myself thinking about tightropes. Tightropes, stretched between two points. During the month of Tishrei, much seems unsure, as we move between the last year and the new year ahead. It is a profound time of uncertainty, and fear, and hope, and we walk a balancing act.

A beloved teacher I turn to in times of peril, Reb Nachman of Braslov, offers us sustenance in times like these. He was a teacher, healer, who we have come to know also carried mental illness his whole life. Reb Nachman is credited with the saying:

כל העולם כולו גשר צער מאד. והיקר לא לפחד כלל
Kol haolam kulo, gesher tzar meod v’haikar lo lefached klal.
The whole wide world is a very narrow bridge, but the important thing is to not be consumed by fear.

I learned a little more about the Poland Reb Nachman saw. Many small rivers scatter the landscape, with little bridges crossing over them. So for Reb Nachman, the entire world was in fact a very narrow bridge. Reb Nachman declared that the entire world is full of that which terrifies us, and yet, he says, we must not let fear consume us.

We balance. We walk between. We weave, we steady.

As I continued to learn more about tightrope walkers, I learned about the pole they carry. It might seem counterintuitive, but the longer the pole the more steady they can be, as it lowers their center of gravity.

We are balancing, together, on a tightrope stretched between the world we are in now, and the world we long to see, and we are carrying the tools we have to balance and to steady.

I invite you to turn and see, or sense the people around you. We are not alone.

Imagine, with me, if you will, maybe even turn your head up to the sky, a forest canopy of tightropes stretched above us. Because we are not alone, we are all walking tightropes together, and we are not just holding our own balancing pole. We are grabbing on to the person standing next to us, and we have woven a canopy that steadies us. That, though we mourn, though we falter, nothing can shake us.

It is this interconnection that causes us to be steady.

We will not be knocked off course by our grief and fear. We will not thicken the walls between us. We will not show up at these rallies, in these sacred places of memory, only when “our own” safety is threatened. We will balance on the beams together.

We will show up in our homes, in our workplaces, in the streets to fight white supremacy.
We will show up in our homes, in our workplaces, in the streets to fight islamophobia,
We will show up in our homes, in our workplaces, in the streets to fight anti-refugee bias and violence
We will show up in our homes, in our workplaces, in the streets to fight transphobia

We will show up in our homes, workplaces, streets to welcome the stranger, care for the sick, comfort the mourner, give help to those in need.

We will not be knocked off course.

So we speak the names of the dead that they may be remembered for blessing, for action. That the intensity of our fear and grief does not dull or dampen. That their names will be on our lips and in our marching feet and our embracing arms. After each name is said, I invite you to respond, “may their memory be for a blessing.”

Pittsburgh, yesterday on Shabbat morning, 11 Jewish elders:
Joyce Feinberg, 75
Richard Gottfried, 65
Rose Mallinger, 97
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Cecil Rosenthal, 59
David Rosenthal, 54
Bernice Simon, 84
Sylvan Simon, 86
Daniel Stein, 71
Melvin Wax, 88
Irving Younger, 69

Louisville, Thursday, two black elders:
Vickie Lee Jones, 67
Maruice E Stallard, 69

The whole wide world is a thin line stretched between two points, and we fear falling off.

We will not let this thicken the separations between communities. We will not capitalize on this tragedy to forward our own candidates, positions, ego, racism, xenophobia. To balance, we must steady ourselves.

We will not be knocked off course. Keep focus. See the point ahead, stay balanced.