Surrounded by stained glass windows featuring images from the Torah as well as the New Testament — and under the watchful eyes of the Pittsburgh police — the words of Psalm 133 echoed through St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland on Sunday, Oct. 22.
Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers of Tree of Life Congregation led more than 100 Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus through the familiar Jewish refrain — Hineih mah tov u’mah na-im shevet achim gam yachad — during an interfaith service, “Healing, Solidarity and Prayers for Peace,” organized by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.
In an interview before the service, Bishop David Zubik said that he reached out to Myers six months earlier, aware that the five-year commemoration of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was approaching.
“What precipitated that massacre,” Zubik said, “still continues in the world and we have to be working at that collectively and addressing within ourselves the bigotry that exists in each of us. I think that was part of why I decided to do this.”
Because the southwestern Pennsylvania community came together “so beautifully” following the Oct. 27, 2018, antisemitic attack, Zubik said, he thought it was a good idea to gather again now to continue to pray and support each other.
Myers said that he was overwhelmed when the bishop called him during the trial of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter.
“I thought, what a thoughtful gesture at this difficult time,” Myers said. “Thinking to where we are today in the world, there’s so much need for healing. People aren’t sure how to heal. I think where leaders of the faith community come forward, that’s part of what we do — to provide opportunities for hope and healing.”
When the trial concluded, Myers explained, Tree of Life Congregation began to work on healing after being stuck in neutral for the last half-decade.
“Then war broke out,” he said. “It compounds the trauma of the fifth commemoration with this added element, which makes it so very difficult. You can’t siphon out one trauma from another and say, ‘I’m going to put aside this one and focus on this one,’ because it’s a layer-upon-layer sort of thing.”
Zubik called the war between Israel and Hamas terrorists “tragic.”
“We need to pray for each other that we can have respect for every single person, whether we agree with them or not,” he said. “Obviously, that’s been heightened by the tragic discovery, what happened yesterday in Detroit.” (Samantha Woll, president of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, was found dead of multiple stab wounds outside her home. As of press time, law enforcement officials had found no evidence that the attack was motivated by antisemitism.)
“These are occasions for us to stop and take a look at who we are,” Zubik continued. “God created us in his image, but he created us to be sisters and brothers and we need to stop and reflect on that.”
Rabbi Doris Dyen, spiritual leader for the independent Havurah Makom HaLev, and Temple Sinai Rabbi Daniel Fellman participated in the service, as did several other community leaders, including the Rev. Liddy Barlow, executive minister of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, and Wasi Mohamed, the former executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh and now chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Summer Lee.
Mohamed, who spoke after Myers, stressed the importance of being together and offered a prayer for peace.
Irene Cheng played “Two Hebrew Melodies, I. Kaddish,” by Maurice Ravel on a violin featured in the Violins of Hope Greater Pittsburgh exhibition.
The nearly hour-long service concluded with the recitation of the Shehecheyanu blessing by all three rabbis.
The five-year commemoration of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting will continue with a virtual Torah study, volunteer opportunities and a ceremony on Oct. 27 at 3 p.m. in Schenley Park. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.