Recently, as I was preparing dinner for my family, at about 6:30 pm, my doorbell rang. I wasn’t expecting anyone but checked to see who it could be anyway. I looked through the glass of my front door and saw a young man, and through the closed door asked him what he wanted. A donation to his charity, he said. I responded, no thank you, and I walked away. 5 minutes later my doorbell rang again. Once again I looked through the glass of my front door, and this time it was someone campaigning for the municipal election. Both of these people infuriated me. They dared invade the sanctuary of my home. This really upset me.
I have not written a blog post in many weeks. It’s not for a lack of ideas, and so many of them are swirling through my head every day. I am desperate to write, as writing relieves all stress in my daily life and really calms me. I have been extremely busy with a new, very full-time job, three children in school, a husband with a new consulting business and an attempt to balance my work demands with my family’s needs. Every time I steal away a few minutes on my own I have had no strength to write.
But this weekend I had to write. After the heinous attack on the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, one of the first words that came to my mind was sanctuary. It has many meanings, and two in particular are on my mind right now.
As I wrote above, my home is my sanctuary. It is the one and only place in this vast, sometimes scary world, that is mine, where I should feel safe and where I can simply escape. My home is where my family eats, sleeps, screams, laughs, cuddles and cries. Our home belongs to us, and we do not have to allow anyone in when we don’t want to.
So when someone rings my doorbell in the evening, when I am in the sanctuary of my home, with my family, they have violated my private space. It irks me. I don’t like it.
Until this weekend I never really thought more deeply about another way I think of the word sanctuary. It is often the term people use to describe the main, usually largest, space in which Jews pray in a synagogue. For example, I got married in the “main sanctuary” of my family’s synagogue. It never occurred to me the deeper meaning of what that represents to the Jewish community until this Saturday, this past Shabbat, as congregants gathered in the sanctuary of their synagogue to do no more than pray.
The synagogue’s, church’s or mosque’s sanctuary, or the central space in which any religious group prays, is sacred, and it is the extension of the home. We pray in the house of worship’s sanctuary together, as a community, and we feel safe. When we are in that sanctuary – in our own home or our synagogue, we don’t expect anyone to disrupt that peace and sense of calm.
Someone ringing my doorbell, asking for a donation, to sell me something or convince me to vote for them, is terribly annoying. It bothers me. It threatens my sanctuary.
Someone who bursts through the doors of a synagogue, who tears through the sanctuary, while people are praying, shouting “Death to the Jews” then murders them, is repulsive. I am actually having trouble thinking of the right words to use to describe my feelings about how an individual violated the sanctuary of a group of worshippers on the Sabbath and killed them in cold blood.
For eleven people, one man took away their lives.
For a whole community, he took away our sanctuary. He took away our right to have a sacred place to come together – not only to pray, but to feel safe. Everyone deserves to have a sanctuary, in their own home or in their place of worship. My home will always be my main sanctuary. And I hope that the hateful act of one man will not take away the other one.