Beth-El Rabbis Visit Charleston

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150618191852-12-charleston-reax-0818-super-169In support of the light, hope, courage and love shown by the members of Mother Emmanuel Church after the June 17 shootings, Rabbis Meir and Tara Feldman, senior rabbis at Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, spent 36 hours in Charleston on July 1 and 2. Upon their return, the Feldmans shared their impressions. Rabbi Meir Feldman was moved by the attitude of the people he met in Charleston. “That rank evil could generate so much love is truly hard to believe. But it has. In our visit, we learned something profound about freedom.”

Rabbi Feldman described their visit to Mother Emmanuel Church where, together with about 70 others, lay people, ministers and three other rabbis, the Feldmans studied the Bible on a Wednesday, in the same chairs on the same day of the week and hour, as the Charleston 9 sat in before they were murdered on June 17. The Feldmans shared some of the feelings raised by their visit in this way: “Sitting in that room, a humble church basement, it was hard not to obsess over the blood and carnage that must have lay on that very floor a mere 14 days earlier.”

Rabbi Tara Feldman noted, “If these people were normal, we’d have heard fiery speeches filled with rage and hatred. Strategies for revenge and justice and punishment would have been the agenda. Rightly, that’s what we should have heard. Instead, we studied Bible, the subject of healing, a life of joy and of God, the power of forgiveness, the importance of giving our resentment and anger to God.”

The Feldmans shared some of the insights of their fellow students. One individual said, “Let God hold our anger. He’s big enough. Vengeance is God’s domain. God’s job is to judge, our job is to love. When I hold my anger, it stops the flow of holiness, of love, of mental, physical, emotional health within me. When I hold onto anger, it keeps God from working through me.”

Rabbi Meir Feldman recalled, “We learned so much in 36 hours. We have never before witnessed forgiveness like this. One victim said the following: ‘As soon as you forgive, as soon as you hand your anger and rage to God, your victimizer has no more power over you. You end the experience of being a victim. Forgiveness does not mean that I have no anger or that the person is freed from consequences. Definitely not. It’s just that punishment is God’s work, not ours.’”

From their time in Charleston, the Feldmans learned that “freedom is the power to unleash the overarching love that resides within us, when we are unshackled from the bonds of resentment and rage and revenge.” Rabbi Tara Feldman stated, “We were truly inspired by the families and friends of the Charleston 9, their forgiveness, love and joy in the face of unspeakable violence and tragedy, so much that we want to share this message of forgiveness with the Great Neck community. It is a message that has meaning for us all.”

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