Is God responsible for tragedy?

Joffe Day of Learning, November 2010

Rabbi Morey Schwartz to keynote Joffe Day of Jewish Learning, Nov. 7

By Rick Hellman, The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle

Rabbi Morey Schwartz

If you lead a congregation long enough — as former Overland Park, Kan. Congregation Beth Israel Abraham Voliner spiritual leader Rabbi Morey Schwartz did for almost a decade — you are sure to come face to face with personal tragedy.

But the Modern Orthodox Schwartz did not have to wait until after his ordination to grapple firsthand with agonizing questions of life and death, such as how God could allow a young mother to die, seemingly before her time.

Both of Schwartz’s parents died before he turned 21. That experience significantly informed both his rabbinic work and his new book, Where’s My Miracle? Exploring Jewish Traditions for Dealing with Tragedy.

Schwartz is now director of curriculum and faculty development with the Melton Adult Mini-School Institute in Jerusalem. In conjunction with the DJCC’s Dayton Jewish Cultural Arts & Book Festival, he’ll deliver the keynote address of the Pearl Joffe Memorial Day of Jewish Learning on Sunday, Nov. 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Boonshoft CJCE.

His talk is the culmination of a day of adult education classes with the theme Jewish Teachings on Joy and Suffering, to be held at Beth Abraham Synagogue and led by Dayton-area Jewish scholars and rabbis.

Schwartz opens his Where’s My Miracle? with a discussion of his mother’s death, or rather, his own reaction to it.

“She is gone,” he writes, “only 55 years old. I am lying on her bed, still sensing her perfume on the pillow cover. ‘Why, why, why, it’s not fair, it’s not fair…’ I say these words softly, I scream them at the top of my lungs …

“And I wait for my answer. Surely there will be an answer, a voice out of the whirlwind…I am an observant Jew. I worked hard as a teenager to get to this place in life. I study the Torah and Jewish law daily. I pray three times a day. And I am only 20 years old. ‘God, it’s just not fair!’ I scream out. ‘Where’s my miracle?’

“It would be years before I would discern the answer.”

In a telephone interview from his home in Hashmonaim, Israel, Schwartz said that in the decades since his mother’s death, he has at least come to an understanding of how Jewish tradition answers the anguished questions he posed to God at age 20. And delineating those answers for the benefit of others was the reason he decided to write this, his first book.

“I really feel like this 25-year quest of mine, to research this subject and look for different ways of thinking about it, has given me a lot of comfort,” he said. “It gave me a different way of looking at my life and others. It has given me a different perspective on the role of God in our lives. If anything, this whole journey of mine has increased my faith in God. In a strange way, holding God less responsible has given me a much stronger faith in God.”

Pearl Joffe Memorial Day of Jewish Learning: Sunday, Nov. 7, 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.: three sessions of adult education classes at Beth Abraham Synagogue with Dayton-area Jewish scholars and rabbis. 7:30 p.m.: Rabbi Morey Schwartz at the Boonshoft CJCE. All sessions are free and open to the public. Register with Simone Lotven Sofian at 610-1555 ext. 129 or go to

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