On October 27 in Pittsburgh, innocent people were attacked and killed while they attended religious services at their Jewish temple. The attack was identified as a hate crime and was particularly hideous because it desecrated a house of worship on a holy day, and because it occurred at a precise moment when the victims were in prayer.

On Sunday evening, yellow ribbons were tied around the oak trees of the Chabad House (pronounced “Habad”), the religious center of the Jewish community of Key Biscayne, led by Rabbi Yoel Caroline. The Chabad House has the mission of providing “wisdom, understanding and knowledge” to the members of the Jewish community following the traditions of Orthodox Judaism, but it is open to all degrees of religious observance.

So why the yellow ribbons? The yellow ribbon has become an American symbol representing the hope that our loved ones who are far away will protected from harm and will return home safely. The song “Tie a yellow ribbon around the old Oak tree” was composed in 1971 by Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown and became the anthem of the American families whose sons and daughters were away in the Vietnam War.

Since it first appeared, the song has become known all around the world and has been recorded more than a thousand times. In conflicts such as the Iran Hostage Crisis and the two Gulf Wars, American families and others in the community tied yellow ribbons in their homes to show solidarity. The yellow ribbon has three symbolic meanings: 1) Yellow is a bright color, so the absent member, upon returning, will see it and be able to recognize his or her home. 2) The yellow ribbon tied in a bow is associated with gift-giving, which symbolizes the gift of love from those who care for the absent person. 3) Tied around an oak tree, a tree that is solid and strong, with deep roots, signifies a sense of community and belonging.

So it is not only the absent person’s family, but his entire community that hopes for safe return and reaffirms to him or her that “you are a part of us and we are a part of you.”

A vigil held at the Chabad House on Monday, at which Rabbi Caroline and other s spoke eloquently, was attended by a large crowd, which demonstrated solidarity with our Jewish community and a repudiation of hate crimes by all in attendance. That was the way it was, and we all hope that that is the way it will continue to be in our Key Biscayne community.

Eugenio M. Rothe, M.D. is a professor at FIU medical school who practices psychiatry in Coral Gables, he has lived in Key Biscayne for more than three decades and is the President-elect of the American Association of Social Psychiatry.

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