The Saturday morning service was drawing to a close with the mourning Kaddish.
Nancy Coren read the names one by one, those synagogue members who had died on this day long ago, and those who took their final breath in the last year.
After each name, the Kaddish was recited in Hebrew, said Coren, the spiritual lay leader of Lincoln’s Tifereth Israel Synagogue.
The prayer is not centered on death, she says. It’s about hope for the future.
“It has a certain cadence. A family member once said it sounds like a heart beating.”
She moves one hand back and forth in time.
Coren is a mother and a grandmother who grew up at this synagogue in a quiet neighborhood and, for a decade now, has officiated at weddings and funerals, naming and circumcision ceremonies, bat and bar mitzvahs.
She has led Shabbat services, lined up speakers and educational programming, taught Hebrew classes and visited the sick. She is a chaplain with the Lincoln Chaplaincy Corps and a member of Lincoln’s Interfaith Council; its annual citywide Thanksgiving worship service will be held in the synagogue this year.
She builds bridges.
She was leading the morning service Saturday. After she read the final name, she asked if anyone had another to add.
A young woman spoke up. She’d arrived a few minutes late. Did they know about the 11 people murdered at the synagogue in Pittsburgh? They should say Kaddish for them …
Coren did not know. Shabbat is a time when Jews put away outside distractions, so phones and electronics are shut off from Friday’s sunset until the first stars shine in the Saturday sky.
“I tell you, it just felt like a kick to the gut.”
Everyone rose, she said. Even those who had not stood earlier.
“And we all said Kaddish together.”
The synagogue is quiet Tuesday afternoon, light filling the library where we sit and talk.
Coren has worshiped here nearly all of her life. The congregation is small and aging, she says, many members in their 70s and 80s. One man, a Holocaust survivor, just turned 100.
“The children here are like everyone’s children,” she says.
Over the weekend, synagogue members reached out with worry. Will there be school tomorrow? Are you worried? Is it safe?
And Coren’s email in-box filled with messages of shock and sadness and sympathy as good people of all faiths recoiled from the violence in Pittsburgh, where a man had entered the Tree of Life Synagogue and massacred the Jewish men and women inside.
The man had spouted his anti-Semitic hate on a social media site for months — and minutes before he arrived with his weapons had vowed to take action.
The Anti-Defamation League says anti-Semitic acts rose 60 percent in the last two years. In Charlottesville, Virginia, white nationalists rallied chanting “Jews will not replace us!” In Lincoln and Omaha, swastikas and hate literature have appeared in public spaces.
And now Pittsburgh.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘I’m not surprised but I’m horrified,’” Coren says.
The Jewish history is one of persecution, from the pogroms to the Holocaust, to the anti-Semitic slurs, tropes and attitudes that persist today.
Those attitudes have always been there, Coren said. “But they have seemed mostly underground, less emboldened.”
Coren was in Jerusalem in 2015 when a 21-year-old white supremacist and Neo-Nazi pulled a gun from his backpack during a prayer service in Charleston, South Carolina, and murdered nine African-American members of Emanuel AME Church.
He vowed to start a race war.
Coren returned home and put together a book of prayers. They held a special World Without Hate Shabbat.
It became an annual Shabbat.
There is a saying in the Jewish faith, she says, that all of Israel, all of the Jewish faith, are responsible for one another.
They take that message out into the wider world, anyplace where hate lives, and ask themselves: What am I going to do in my own life to put an end to this?
“My biggest hope is that good people of any race, religion, or nationality will let their voices be heard.”
She opens her laptop and looks up a quote from Rav Kook, a Jewish scholar and rabbi.
She reads it.
“The purely righteous don’t complain about evil, but add justice to the world; they do not complain of heresy, but increase faith; they do not complain of ignorance, but increase knowledge.”
Coren takes me to the small sanctuary, where they met last Saturday and learned the terrible news, and to the wide pew-filled space where synagogue members and their friends gathered privately Monday night to honor those murder victims and to pull together as a community.
Coren led the service.
"Let us reflect on the loss of life ... and express our hopes for a time when no one will suffer at the hands of others."
She spoke of the rise of anti-Semitic acts and hope. "We must never succumb to despair when it is our job to bring a message of justice and righteousness to the world."
The congregation prayed for peace. It prayed for our country.
A memorial candle glowed behind her, as Rabbi Teri Appleby from the South Street Temple read the names of the 11 who were murdered inside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
And everyone stood and said the mourner's Kaddish.
The cadence of the Hebrew words like the sound of a beating heart.