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My Congregant Was in that Dance Bar Shooting

My Congregant Was in the Dance Bar Shooting
by Rabbi Paul Kipnes

It’s 4:37 am
And I’m lying awake.
I’m aghast with what happened,
And what’s really at stake.

That this there gunman went a-shooting,
In a country western dance bar,
And I knew that our temple’s kid
Would not have been far

From the raucous line dancing
Choreographed arms swinging, those leg bends
For an evening of release
He’d be there dancing with his friends

Oy, I worried about my congregant,
So I jumped on Facebook to check
Yes he survived this here shooting –
Then I realized, what the heck!?

Just last week we were in my office
After that synagogue shooting in Squirrel Hill
He asked me, “Rabbi, how do we deal with it all,”
He was frightened and sad, not shrill.

He was despondent, he was angry
He was sick of it all,
He came by to think it through
With his own Rabbi Paul

Who sat there thinking to myself,
You know he ain’t really that wrong,
Because it’s long been out of hand
And we’re just scraping along

So muttering phrases of comfort,
Listening, and offering him hope,
Staying away from meaningless “thoughts and prayers”
Oy, it feels like a sick joke.

I told him to speak up,
Since he had an objection
Go out, get involved
In this upcoming election

Because the randomness of this violence
And the pervasiveness of it all:
It’s in churches and synagogues, kids’ schools, concerts, movie theaters, supermarkets, restaurants, discos…
(INSERT the latest shooting location),
And the local shopping mall.

Still I told him, “While there’s no guarantee of safety
The odds are quite slim”
That he’d face such a shooting
That it could happen to him.

Now not a week later,
He was in that shooting melee…
Thankfully he survived that there horror
And he will live on another day.

So I sent him a message,
Included the Birkat HaGomel prayer
I let him and his parents know
That I’m available, I am here

Yet, how do I counsel
The next one who comes by for support
Whose fears they want me to allay
Whose worry they want me to thwart?

Do I tell them, “Don’t worry”
Do I tell them, “No, not you,”
Rather I’ll tell them the truth:
“No one knows… now whatcha gonna do?”

And to the rest of you dear ones,
Watching from afar, here’s my plea
Remember that last week at this time,
It was about someone else, not him (and not we)

‘Course don’t lose perspective
No, don’t lose your head,
‘Except that tomorrow it just might be
Your loved ones who are dead

And we’d cry there together
Mourning what could have been
If our leaders had just done their jobs
Making hard decisions, like adult women and men.

Yes I’m here if you need me
To cry, listen, and hold you,
But none of that’s gonna stop shooting
So let’s find something else that we can do.

‘Cause it’s our kids, it’s our friends
It’s our dance clubs in our city
So stand up and speak out,
Then go join an anti-gun-violence political action committee.


  1. Melanie Rovin says:

    This is a wonderful poem from a Rabbi who cares and is there and gives hope, and solace.,
    and helps show the way. Thank You. You put it so well.

  2. Mark Shear says:

    Beautifully said. It is hard enough to just get the feelings into some coherent form let alone to turn it into a poem or prose.

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