Mourning and evening: Memories of Things Past, and reflections on the days to come

OKLAHOMA CITY – We gathered July 1, a windy Wednesday at Lake Hefner in north Oklahoma City.

Next to the curved walls of the Eisenhower Plaza there were perhaps 100 people, mostly Jews but a few others, like me.

We remembered three Israeli boys who were kidnapped, their tortured and murdered bodies found on June 30 — Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship.

They had been taken away while hitchhiking home.

Within hours after their deaths were confirmed, an Arab lad named Mohammed Abu Khdeir was taken from a Jerusalem neighborhood. Soon, he was gone – burned to death.

On the green lawn at Stars and Stripes Park that night in my town were young Asians, some of the thousands of Vietnamese-Americans who have come to live among us. And now, they are us.

On the playground were children of every hue. They climbed, slid and ran, their joyful noises a backdrop for our sadness. Hundreds of yards away, young and old played softball.

At a lovely and peaceful twilight, near reeds springing from a water basin replenished by spring rains in the midst of a years-long drought, we gathered. Exchanging handshakes, embraces, worn by worry over people on the other side of the planet, we met and we mourned.

Once upon a time, Carl Rubenstein, Brad Marion, this writer and our sons, worked and played long hours in a Boy Scout troop. We raised up Eagle Scouts, and now, they are men.

Rabbi Abby Jacobson of Emanuel Synagogue, Rabbi Vered Harris of Temple B’Nai Israel, and “zemer” (singer) Linda Sweeney sang Psalms 23 and 130. They called for us, unto a loving and living God, from “out of the depths” alongside not-so-still waters.

Rabbi Abby spoke of practical actions, Tikkum Olam, steps to repair our world. While that requires human action, it can only take place under the sovereignty of God.

Rabbi Vered praised the sad and gentle tune that Carl had played on his flute. Vered said taking the time to remember such things honors “the breadth of our tradition.”

Rabbi Vered’s visage was alternately illuminated in joyful memory, then drawn with care as she mourned for other mothers, over other lost children. In those moments, she bore a beauty like no other.
Two mothers, both rabbis in this community I love. Quietly, in my heart and, for a moment, outside, I wept.
Last October, at the Mount of Beatitudes in Israel, I attended Holy Mass and gazed across the Sea of Galilee.

My time of rest, my Sabbath, took place on the Jewish Sabbath, at the place where tradition says Jesus spoke of the meek and the humble, of those who suffer for the sake of righteousness. I thought of the one who wept over the death of a friend.

During 10 days in Israel, I spent an evening with a couple whose son was murdered more than a decade ago in the desert near Efrat. I visited a woman, raised in Oklahoma City, who now lives with her husband and children in the West Bank. I met fellow Oklahomans for dinner at a hotel that bears the name of King David, near the Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall.

It was a time of peace and of rest, affirmation in a life’s journey, moments I shall never forget.

* * *
Immediately after the Moore, Oklahoma, tornadoes of May 2013, I learned that one of the homes devastated in the storms was that of Saad Mohammed, a member of the board of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Oklahoma City.

I checked in to see how Saad was doing. Fine, he said: but the home was a total loss.

A friend, Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, was organizing relief efforts with the help of members and supporters of the Chabad Community Center he runs.

Ovadia asked me about Saad. I discerned the Rabbi was concerned because, sometimes in this world, it takes as much or more grace to accept help as it does to offer it.

Putting on my reporter hat, I had noticed that standing next to the brick wall of Mohammed’s house was a damaged outdoor grill, and mentioned it to the rabbi. I checked in with Saad, who said Ovadia’s offer of financial assistance was appreciated and would certainly be accepted.

Days later, I traveled to the mosque to which Saad belongs, there to meet him along with Goldman and Michael Barlow, president of the Chabad Center.
It was a friendly and productive exchange. Assistance was tendered, and something else.

Saad loves to grill meats for his family. Goldman asked if the family might enjoy receiving some ultra-Kosher meats which were being donated to tornado victims by an Iowa packing company. The company’s processing standards meet not only Orthodox Jewish, but strict Islamic, dietary requirements.

Beaming, Saad answered, “Yes, of course!”

A circle of relationship bloomed in a soil of caring, after the storm. That memory will sustain me so long as I am on this earth.

Just a couple of guys from Brooklyn, Mohammed and Goldman, and a couple of “us guys” from Oklahoma. And now, we’re all Okies.

At the edge of silvered water, I replayed in the mind’s eye the times in Israel, and what I had witnessed among Michael, Saad and Ovadia.

In memorial of the dead, we prayed the ancient Kaddish, which translates like this:

“Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.
“May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.
“Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
“May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
“He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.”

Blessed are those who mourn. …

The American flag snapped smartly in the evening breeze above our heads as the memorial concluded. The blue sky above was flecked with feathery clouds, across a palette beyond human artistry, the dome  a kind of Heaven, illuminated in a moment of tenderness.

Looking to the southwest, I saw a crescent moon shining. It had risen softly into the twilight.

It was 8:30 p.m. in Oklahoma City, 4:30 a.m. in the desert near Efrat and in Jerusalem.

Soon, that sun would rise over the Holy Land, as it set over our holy land. 

NOTE: Pat McGuigan is associate publisher of The City Sentinel, an Oklahoma City newspaper where this first appeared, editor of, and Oklahoma bureau chief for the network. You may contact him: .