Yesterday, as it always is when Oct. 26 rolls around, was my birthday.
Highlights of my day include getting a phone call from a field somewhere in Boston where my daughter got her entire ultimate frisbee team to shout HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM! into the phone.
My Facebook feed was loaded with wonderful messages wishing me love and happiness. Aren’t Facebook birthdays just the best?
I spent the afternoon on a long walk looking at the reds yellows and oranges of the trees in my neighborhood. I spent the bulk of that walk talking with old friends until my battery died. All the while thinking, why don’t I talk to old friends more often? Like, with my voice. On the phone.
In the gloomy rain, I curled up in bed with our next book club book then enjoyed a fabulous dinner with my son and husband as many of our friends soaked themselves to the bone at the Big House to watch Michigan beat Notre Dame.
Then we watched a movie at home.
Yeah. I know. It was Shabbat. And traditionally, Jews are supposed to power down and unplug on the day of rest. But my phone rang and beeped all day with messages and conversations with my family who all live out of town from me.
I did not forget that it was Shabbat. In fact, we spent my birthday morning in synagogue.
Just like I did last year. On the day after my birthday.
Yesterday, just like last year, I was in synagogue. But now, I cannot think of saying that sentence without thinking about the searing poem written by a young Detroiter who I hope to be half the writer she already is.
Yesterday in synagogue, the accordion door that partitions the sanctuary from the social hall was opened just a crack, just as it has been for a year now.
In case we need to escape a shooter.
Outside, our faithful security guards greeted us with a cheerful good morning and held the door for us as we entered.
They’ve been doing this for a year now.
Yesterday, I chanted an extremely long Haftarah that marks the Beginning as Jews everywhere who go to synagogue begin again and read the story of Creation.
How fitting, or ironic, I thought, that here we are, the day before the day that caused our Jewish community such destruction and pain, the worst attack on Jews in our nation’s history, we read the story of Creation.
After the Torah service, we read a profound statement from a Pittsburgh rabbi who discussed the long-lasting impact the terror attack and those 11 deaths have had on the wider Jewish community in Pittsburgh.
In it, the rabbi concluded that, even as impossible as it seemed, there were still joyful moments in the days and weeks that followed the murders. Even in their mourning, Pittsburgh Jews celebrated weddings. And kids turning into Jewish adults at bnei mitzvot. Somehow, as it always has in our Jewish history, joy mixed with sorrow. And we go on.
As it did yesterday in our own little shul.
Yesterday our congregation officially welcomed our newest member of the tribe as she was called up to the Torah for the first time with an aliyah as she celebrated her conversion to Judaism.
Yesterday I learned I was not the only one celebrating a birthday. From the looks of the two cakes wheeled out on a cart for Kiddush, one blue and one pink, I learned that I now share my birthday with twins. The blue-eyed boy of the twins announced to me that he was now three and then went back to playing with his fire truck.
Last year on my birthday was the last day before.
It was the last day Jewish Americans could go under the false pretense that we were safe in our sanctuaries.
It was the last day before we all became Pittsburgh Strong, before we all scrambled, even though it was Shabbat, to call friends, family, loved ones, friends from camp, friends we knew in childhood that we had not seen in years, to check on them to see if they were okay. Because, if you are an East Coast American Jew, chances are you have a connection to the Tree of Life Synagogue, where not one but three congregations gathered there to pray. To sing Shabbat Shalom Hey! at Tot Shabbat. To welcome in a baby boy into their community. It’s a place where I’ve been. Where my kids have been. Where my cousins became a Bat Mitzvah. Or stood under a canopy for their wedding.
What was lost last year, that feeling of relative innocence and safety, those lives lost that never got to celebrate Chanukkah, or Purim or Passover again…. could the sweetness of twins celebrating their third birthday, a woman being called to the Torah, and my chanting Haftarah counter that horrific day?
Could the intimacy in our small congregation, where those reciting Kaddish for a loved one feel safe enough to share a story of their deceased loved one, sometimes not pretty ones, counter the horror?
So now, it’s Oct. 27, the day after my birthday. The day that will now always be the day before Pittsburgh.