Within Judaism there is the tradition that we commemorate the death of our close family on the yahrzeit (anniversary of their passing). We go to the synagogue to stand and say the Mourner's Kaddish (prayer) for them, during services. We often share a few words about them to the minyan (assembly).
I attend midweek morning synagogue services where the Kaddish is often recited. During this Thursday's service, someone asked the rabbi if we could stand for the 17 people killed by a gunman at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday. His answer was "No".
During the d'var Torah portion of the services, rather than illuminate this week's Parsha (Bible verses), the rabbi instead chose to expand on his answer one-word answer. He said, "The sad truth is, death is all around us. People are dying every day, in hospitals, street violence, domestic violence, car accidents, and yes, mass killings. And I'm just talking about in our state so far. What about in our country? What about our neighboring countries and our allies? What about those deaths from all of the sickness, starvation, and wars taking place around the world? For which deceased should we stand? Which ones should we ignore?"
The rabbi continued, "Kaddish is intended to remember our deceased loved ones. Because Kaddish is foremost a prayer of praise, it also expresses that even despite our pain, we will yet praise G✡d. It should be personal. Kaddish loses its personal nature if we stand for the deceased we never even knew. It would no longer be about praise despite our grief, and we should not allow that."
I must say, I agreed 100% with the rabbi's commentary. Standing for mass shooting victims seems like a thoughtful gesture, but thoughtfulness is hardly the point of Kaddish. Grief from the loss of a close loved one takes us to dark and depressing places. It's easy to get lost in it or overwhelmed by it. The pain is often relived on the yahrzeit. Kaddish gives us a way to constructively deal with that grief.
So what about those 17 victims? What do we the faithful do regarding them? Well, we don't ignore them. We have a Mitzvah (Commandment) to "Repair The World", and to my way of thinking, this is regarding them. One of the worse things we could do would be to allow their deaths to have been in vain. Let our grief over their loss be a spur to action. We have an obligation to see that others don't befall their same fate by making whatever changes are necessary to prevent it.
As one who prays myself, I'd never consider prayer irrelevant, but praying for change is just the beginning. We have more than just the ability to pray. We have the ability to act. Acting for change is essential. If we're not willing to make the phone calls, write the letters, engage in the debates, or cast the votes, our prayers will be just another poor excuse for maintaining the status quo.
How long will we be content to simply pray for the victims and their families, and for change? Until, G✡d forbid, the grief comes knocking on our door?