A Tremendous Amount of Silence in the Face of Violence

Last night, I happened to be in a room with Rabbis when we heard, for the first time, about the attacks that were still underway in Paris. A group of us were sitting around, joking as temple staff prepared to host Shabbat services when someone got a beep and a news alert and then we all hopped on our phones. It was comforting for me, as an atheist chaplain, to watch and see that even these "men of God" were all at a loss as to what to say in the face of what was unfolding. The Rabbi leading the service ended up finding a beautiful way to mention the events, which were still incredibly unclear, with solemnity and compassion. But in speaking to him afterward, he mentioned that it did not feel sufficient to him; to which I shrugged in sympathy and said, "of course it didn't." How could it?

As a chaplain I have to ask myself what to do and say when something like what happened in Paris and Beirut yesterday transpires. Social media particularly makes it feel as though it is compulsory for me to say something; but that something often feels like performance: "Here is my requisite outrage and solidarity." Of course I am outraged. And of course I stand in solidarity with everyone who is suffering as a result of yesterday's events. I'm just not sure what posting on social media accomplishes for me, personally, other than the fact that not posting feels insensitive and out-of-touch. And I humbly admit that the outreach, solidarity and compassion of others meant a lot to me when the Boston Marathon Bombing happened less than 3 miles away from where I live.

Social media participates partially in my sense of pressure to come up with something succinct yet sufficient to say. But I also feel this compulsion to come up with something to say about these events because tomorrow the community that I am the Assistant Chaplain of will host one of its largest events of the year, a Thanksgiving Meal Packing event, and I will see hundreds of students walk through our doors. And at one point, I will be asked to give a reflection about thanksgiving; usually a very easy topic for me, living my incredible life.

I was once told that the only honest prayer in a moment of emergency is a prayer for strength and I agree. But I don't offer prayers unless I am asked to do so and that is not what I will be asked to do tomorrow. So what I find myself really wanting to do is create a noisy silence. A traditional moment of silence feels insufficient. The silence I want to create would not be to reflect, or send good thoughts, but to acknowledge that there are no words. There are no words for what is unfolding in front of us; or what is happening to us. It feels so deeply complicated to me; so rooted in thousands of years of violence, human error and misunderstandings and yet so simple; dead beloveds at the hands of murderers.

What is there to say? There are no words.

So the rest of this post is my gesture of silence on the events that transpired yesterday and all of the violence that unfolds around the world and in our communities hourly.

I don't have anything to say. But I have a tremendous amount of silence to offer.