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all you need are hugs

11/04/2021 08:29:57 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

I’m writing this blog the morning after the 10.27 Commemoration, as numerous thoughts swirl through my head, and I wanted to capture them in a timely manner. It has indeed become for me, and no doubt many others, the most difficult time of the year. Because of the proximity of the yahrtzeit on October 24 to the public commemoration on October 27, the time between to recharge the batteries was very brief. It has become my honor these past three years to chant the special Eil Malei in remembrance of the eleven victims, but after chanting it four times within four days, I must admit that I am spent. During the final time I chanted it as a part of the commemoration, as the tears flowed, I sensed that the cantorial part of my brain was not in charge, but literally my soul just cried out. I let it take me where it wanted to go, and I trusted that it needed to let it out. I pray that none of my colleagues ever have to chant this version of the Eil Malei for their communities ever.

There was an assemblage of media gathered after the commemoration, and I offered to appear briefly to answer their questions. The first question took me by surprise: “Rabbi, what was your favorite moment of the commemoration”? I thought to myself, “What? Really? We just honored the memory of eleven slain Jews. A favorite moment?” I will leave you, my reader, to come up with what might be an appropriate answer, snarky or not. After a moment, I replied that the beautiful singing of HaZamir Pittsburgh, a member of HaZamir International, the world’s only multi-national Jewish teen chorus, gave me hope for a brighter future hearing the young voices. Other questions were asked that I dutifully answered, and the makeshift post-event press conference concluded.

I thought over that question that evening and this morning, and after reconsidering, I want to change my answer. My favorite moment of the commemoration was hugging. Last year’s commemoration was pre-recorded and virtual, and each of us viewed it from the safety of our homes. And I missed the hugging. A deeply intense hug can be the most powerfully unspoken communication that exists. When I hugged people last evening, amongst the unspoken words were:

  • I love you
  • I missed you
  • I care about you
  • I grieve
  • I still feel the pain
  • I’ll take some of your pain from you Rabbi
  • Me: I’ll take some of your pain from you

A brief bit of research confirmed what I knew, in that our bodies respond positively to deep, intense hugs by releasing hormones that make us feel good. Those hormones include oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. I think that we all knew this without any research, recognizing that a warm, deep, long embrace just feels good. And on October 27, we need all the feel good that we can get. So I’ve changed my answer, as I dug deeply to really find what was most impactful to me. My answer is: hugging. May the memory of our eleven departed always be for a blessing.

Sun, May 22 2022 21 Iyyar 5782