On Oct. 28, 2018 in Los Angeles, California, we got married, and though surrounded by family and friends, our hearts were at once filled with joy and sorrow.
Our journey began the week before the shooting, when Beth Shalom hosted Refugee Shabbat with HIAS along with our aufruf. We felt that it was fitting to share our joy by showing our values. We would spend the following week holding on to this with pride.
On October 27, we woke to the news of the shooting in our neighborhood. Jeremy remembers being woken up by his father and later standing in the hotel lobby, watching neighbors and community members on the news. Elana remembers her friends asking if she was ok and knowing that her friends were preparing for victims in the emergency department. We continued to our local synagogue that morning, for our Los Angeles aufruf. It just felt right.
That morning was a blur, slowly working through the shock of what had happened, with no real information. Elana’s sister offered some important wisdom — that we should see our emotional state like the image of the coin — one side containing sadness and the other, joy. This was an important symbol for Elana, a touchpoint throughout the whole weekend.
We received hundreds of text and online messages of support from people all over. It meant so much to us to feel the support of everyone.
Over the course of Shabbat, we struggled over the question, how are we going to celebrate our wedding with this hanging over us? What are we even allowed to feel? Despite our sadness, we made a commitment: this is our wedding and we needed to be able to celebrate.
In the Talmud, it teaches, “One reroutes the funeral procession to yield before the wedding procession.” This lesson, to be taught by our rabbis before the wedding procession, became our mantra. This gave us the permission we needed to have our day.
We began getting ready on our wedding day, keeping our phones and the news at bay, allowing the celebrations to be our sole focus. We decided that all Pittsburgh related talk could wait until at least Monday. What else could we do?
And we did have our day, allowing the celebration of the life we were building together to be our focus. We sang, we danced and we got married.
When we came to the airport on Tuesday, we reoriented and prepared for our return. Our conversation turned to, how can we serve our community? What did they need and what could we do?
We knew it was important to come back to our Pittsburgh community ready. It was powerful to recognize how much we needed them and that they needed us. We heard, time and time again, that the happiness of our wedding was a light in the darkness. On Wednesday, our first day back in Pittsburgh, we started our day at morning minyan. Jeremy remembers standing and offering hugs to funeral attendees as they left Beth Shalom. It was a powerful and strange experience to be wished mazel tov amongst the sorrow. Jeremy felt that it was his duty to be present and to serve.
Elana remembers, “Jeremy was constantly working to provide people a sense of consistency, safety, and the message to take care of themselves and others. He used whatever means he could to reach people, broadly and one-on-one. Jeremy went on overdrive, working with trauma experts and the Beth Shalom staff.”
Jeremy remembers, “Elana was there, for two weeks straight, keeping me propped up so that I could help others. She was helping everyone, running around the city, supporting whoever needed it. I remember thinking, this is not how I wanted to begin married life, but that this kind of love and support was a powerful way to start.”
We had the opportunity to share a number of sheva berachot with friends, but one stands out in particular.
On the Shabbat after the Shooting, in the presence of hundreds, a few of our beloved community members at Beth Shalom organized a sheva berachah after kiddush. As we began to chant the seven blessings as a part of the Birkat Hamazon, amongst the tears, we could feel the change. The weight on our shoulders began to lift, our hearts started to rise, and just as with our voices, so too with our bodies. Elana and a few of the other women present began to dance. Circling round and round, singing louder and louder. After a few minutes, dozens of us had joined them, dancing and singing.
Together we brought to life what it says in the Psalms, “You turned my mourning into dancing, my sackcloth into robes of joy.”
And now, as we celebrate our first anniversary, we hold the impossible again, joy and sorrow. pjc
Rabbi Jeremy Markiz is director of Derekh and Youth Tefillah at Congregation Beth Shalom. Elana Neshkes is a resident at UPMC.