On Saturday, October 27 a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania, where he shot and killed 11 worshippers. The shooting occurred only a few days after a white man murdered a black man and woman at a Kroger store in Jeffersontown, Kentucky.
A week after the fatal synagogue shooting, members of faith communities from across northeast Ohio joined hundreds of parishioners inside B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in Pepper Pike to remember those who were killed. They came together to stand against hate.
“Healing is what we all need,” said Senior Rabbi Stephen Weiss. “Your presence gives us strength and comfort at a very difficult time.”
“The mass murder of Jews in Pittsburgh and the racially-motivated shootings in Kentucky both struck close to home for me. And frankly, I’m tired of sitting quietly in my office and praying for the victims of mass shootings while our elected leaders encourage people to carry concealed weapons rather than find effective ways to make mass shootings more difficult,” said North Coast District Superintendent the Rev. Dr. Steve Bailey, who extended Weiss’ invitation to attend the Shabbat of Solidarity to clergy and laity leaders of his United Methodist Church district.
“How could I not come?” asked the Rev. Cindy Theobald of Solon UMC. “The call to love and serve doesn’t allow me to stand on the sidelines. I cannot ignore words or actions which hate difference. This requires vigilance and willingness to risk to love others.”
“We are all human beings. To attack us one is to attack us all,” Liming Wang, principal of the Cleveland Contemporary Chinese Cultural Association, told worshippers.
During the service, communities of faith prayed together, reflected on the lives lost, shared in readings, and sang in one voice. A member of the Sikh community sang a hymn that roughly translates in English as: “We all call God different names but we all pray to the same God. We all come from different places but in reality, despite all the labels, we are all one people.”
“We are here today to show our solidarity and to express to you that you are not alone in your time of suffering and pain. Your pain is our pain. Your suffering is our suffering,” said Pastor Omar Medina of Iglesia Cristiana Comunidad de Fe.
“To stand as one under God’s care is an important thing to do at a time such as this. To stand beside our brothers and sisters of all religions is necessary to show that hate and intolerance are not acceptable,” said Ridgewood UMC Pastor the Rev. Karen Wolcott.
“The first response of any neighborhood when one of its own has been harmed is to surround them with love and support. We cannot let hate speak louder than love,” said the Rev. Dianne Covault, pastor of Christ UMC in Cleveland, who attended the service with her 14 year-old daughter.
“A terrorist entered a synagogue on Shabbat morning intending to strike a blow at the Jewish people and at America. What he succeeded in doing is reminding us how much we each love one another,” said Rabbi Hal Rudin-Luria of the B’nai Jeshurun Congregation before imploring, “Let’s let love reign.”
“This vigil was personal for all of us at Garfield Memorial Church. Rabbi Steve Weiss is my brother, neighbor and friend. The relationship between our two congregations way surpasses ‘thoughts and prayers.’ There were dozens of Garfield Memorial members who were present, joining arms and proclaiming that hate won’t win,” said the Rev. Chip Freed, Garfield Memorial Church lead pastor.
Senior Bishop J. Delano Ellis of Pentecostal Churches of Christ spoke from his heart in a message that drew applause from the packed synagogue.
“The shame of it all is that we become brothers and sisters, and huggers and kissers, when there is a tragedy,” he said. “Why does someone have to shoot somebody before we find out that I need you, you need me? We’re all a part of God’s body.”
Imam Ramez Islambouli of the Uqbah Mosque Foundation reminded worshippers that they should, “Choose this day whom you will serve, for one cannot serve God and at the same time embrace hate.”
“It is our time to marshal God’s power as the faith community,” said Pastor Richard Gibson of Elizabeth Baptist Church and co-chair of Greater Cleveland Congregations. “We love you, we stand with you, and we shall not be moved.”
Bailey said the outpouring of love, and standing together as one voice, sent a message to all.
“My hope is that the children and teens who were present in the synagogue today saw a larger and more courageous community of faith friends, and that our presence encouraged them.”
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.