Several members and visitors have asked for a copy of Rabbi David Ostrich’s remarks at our special service on Shabbat November 2, 2018. In the aftermath of the murders at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, Jewish congregations all over the country held special services where non-Jewish friends and neighbors joined Jewish communities in worship and memory and resolution. At Brit Shalom, our service was attended by some 600 people, and the support and love was overwhelming. Here are Rabbi Ostrich’s remarks:
We have gathered together this Sabbath evening to thank God for the Creation and for the blessings we enjoy, and in the aftermath of a great evil that happened last Saturday just a few miles down the road.
When a tragedy like this occurs, the bonds of sympathy felt with the victims are often widespread and deeply rooted. There are concentric circles of outrage, fear, sadness, and resolve. Some have friends and relatives in Squirrel Hill. Some used to belong to the Tree of Life Congregation. Jews are connected by the sacred bond of our covenantal community—and by the anti-Jewish statements of the murderer. Some are connected because they are people of faith who believe that worship places should be respected and that worshippers should be able to pray in safety. Some people realize that heinous acts against any citizen who is somehow “different” spell danger for all minority citizens—realizing, of course, that pretty much everybody belongs to one kind of minority or another. The idea that someone could be targeted and murdered because of religious or racial or cultural or gender or any dozens of differences is profoundly perverse and sinful and filled with evil. It is also deeply unpatriotic.
This sense of horror is widespread, and the resulting support for and affirmation of the Pittsburgh congregation, Jewish congregations all over the country, all immigrants, and all potential victims of hate have been significant and remarkably inspiring. Jewish communities all over the country have received e-mails, phone calls, and letters from thousands of non-Jews also aghast at the outbreak of hate and anti-Semitism that erupted last Shabbat. Let me share three examples.
First, this peace lily flower arrangement in the front of our altar was donated by a group of local Christian clergy who work with me on a variety of interfaith efforts and who want to remind us of the commonality of our aspirations—and of the respect, cooperation, and true friendships that bridge our theological and liturgical differences. Thanks to these friends for this kind gesture and for the fellowship of holiness that we share.
Second, joining us this evening are Donald Hahn, the mayor of State College, and a number of council members and local leaders. They are here to say that a common humanity binds all of our residents together, and that acts of hate have no place in our town, our county, our commonwealth, our country, or our world.
Third is a letter we got from the local Orthodox Church—that’s Christian Orthodoxy—voicing their friendship with the Jewish community, offering us a memorial donation to plant trees in Israel in memory of the Tree of Life victims, and giving us a copy of a letter sent out to all Orthodox congregations in North America by their Primate. I would like to read to you from that letter...
“To the Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America,
On Saturday, October 27, 2018, as congregants at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh were observing the Jewish Sabbath, a man of violence entered into their midst and murdered eleven men and women at worship. Before finishing his acts of horror, he wounded several others, including four brave police officers who had rushed to the scene. Reports indicate that this man had the sole intention of killing members of the Jewish community, and that he shouted, ‘all Jews must be killed’” while he committed this atrocity. The Orthodox Church in America grieves with the families of the murdered. We pray fervently to God for the healing of the wounded, and consolation for all who are affected.
The perpetrator of this barbarous crime sought to falsely justify his actions with a particular hatred for a Jewish organization that gives support to refugees and immigrants of diverse nationalities, races, and religions, thus fulfilling the command of God himself who said to the people of Israel through the Prophet Moses, ‘The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19.34).” Orthodox Christians have received this same teaching in the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which our Lord teaches us that the ‘neighbor’ we are enjoined by God to love is hidden in the ‘other,’ who is a human being of a different nationality, race, or religion.
We abhor and condemn this wicked deed, and reject its false justification. Instead, we offer the hope that can be found in God alone. In Him, we are free from the assault of attitudes and ideologies of prejudice and hatred, fear and anxiety about those who are indeed our neighbors. As we stagger under the impact of the murders in the Pittsburgh synagogue, and as we walk alongside the Jewish citizens of our nations while sharing their grief and anxiety, we must turn to God, the source of mercy, consolation, and hope...
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada”
When evil erupts in our world and people suffer, we who believe in a just and loving God find ourselves shaken. But, lest we think that God is unmoved, our traditions teach us that God is also deeply traumatized. In the Jewish Tradition, we are taught that God is with us in our troubles, grieving with us and loving us continually, eternally. In one ancient Midrash, the Rabbis even suggest that, when Israel was enslaved in Egypt, so was God. God was right alongside us in our suffering; God’s Presence never leaves. Christians have the same belief as voiced in Matthew 25 (40): “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” In other words, both heaven and earth are shocked and saddened and profoundly disappointed when hate attacks the innocent. This is true of Pittsburgh and Louisville and Charleston and Houston and Parkland and Las Vegas and every location where the godly potential of human beings is perverted and diverted and wasted. God grieves with us.
And, we are taught, God hopes for better. God hopes along with us that love, kindness, honesty, and respect, that compassion, righteousness, justice, and grace will burst forth in the world—that we can bring light to darkness, understanding to ignorance, and love to intolerance. We may pray to God, but I believe that God is praying to us that those who gather together tonight in shock and in sadness also gather in resolve to bring forth the godliness that is possible in the human soul.