Interfaith vigils offer support amidst violence and hatred in Pittsburgh.
JN Staff Reports
Several vigils for the Tree of Life Congregation shooting victims held last week were gatherings of people of many faiths, all saddened by the show of hatred in Pittsburgh.
Above: Chaplain Yvonne Fant Moore leads the singing of “We Shall Overcome” at the interfaith service at Beth Shalom in Oak Park.
Photo by Rabbi Matt Zerwekh
At Temple Beth El on Oct. 30 in Bloomfield Township, 1,200 people of various faiths and backgrounds filled the main sanctuary to mourn and be together. Through solidarity and faith expressed in words and music, they found comfort and hope. The support from non-Jewish neighbors was heartwarming to the Jewish community.
“The first call I received [after the shootings] was from Imam Almasmari. Then I heard from our other [interfaith] partners right away,” said Rabbi Mark Miller, Beth El’s senior rabbi.
Clergy from six local congregations, in addition to Beth El, as well as a representative of state government, provided moving personal and religious perspectives.
The vigil closed with the lighting of individual memorial candles for each Tree of Life victim. Members of the participating congregations as well as representatives of Beth El, Jewish Federation and JCRC/AJC pronounced each name along with a specific message of anti-bigotry.
Congregation Beth Shalom, along with Temple Emanu-El, hosted an interfaith vigil the same evening that was organized in part by the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, the Detroit Interfaith Outreach Network and the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion.
The vigil drew 500 people. Members of Beth Shalom and Emanu-El welcomed and thanked participants and encouraged them to light a candle in memory of those murdered.
Before the evening concluded with the singing of “We Shall Overcome,” Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Robert Gamer reminded the crowd of the teachings of Rabbi Hillel: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?
“We have to be for ourselves, but we have to go outside of ourselves to reach out to those who are different from us, who do not look like us and who do not pray the same as us,” Gamer said. “This evening must mark a beginning and not an end. We have to be for each other not just today, but every day. That is the only way we can change the world. That is the only way we will never have another evening like this.”
In Windsor, hundreds gathered Oct. 30 at Temple Beth El for a multi-faith service.
Clergy from Christian, Muslim, Sikh and indigenous faiths talked, prayed and sang during the 90-minute service, which opened with the lighting of Yizkor candles in memory of the 11 Pittsburgh dead.
The gathering underlined the goodwill that has long characterized the Windsor faith communities.
Bruce Elman, religious vice president of Congregation Shaar HaShomayim and Windsor city hall’s integrity commissioner, called on the local community to respond to the atrocity by reaffirming Judaism and its larger community ties, noting the gathering was a first step.
“We can stand together as a community united against hate,” he said.
Imam Mohamed Mahmoud of the Windsor Islamic Association said the “attack on you is an attack on all of us” and that “we all under the skin are the same.” And he said violence afflicts all groups, pointing to the mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec City in January 2017 that killed six and injured 19.
Beth El Rabbi Lynn Goldstein noted the irony of the killings as the victims “took their last breath in a building named for life.” She implored Jews, in wake of the tragedy, not to hide but “to act.” She said now, more than ever, “we have to reach out to each other with caring and compassion.”
JN Contributing Writers Shari S. Cohen and Stacy Gittleman as well as Ron Stang in Windsor contributed to this report.