Tonight there was a very powerful and moving vigil at JW3, London’s JCC, for the victims of Pittsburgh. I was very moved and honored to be invited to participate as a London native now serving a US Conservative congregation, like Tree of Life. The impact that this hateful crime has had on the community here in the UK is astounding and deep. The speakers tonight included the Mayor of London, the Home Secretary, the Israeli and the US Ambassadors,the Chief of Police a Bishop, a prominent Muslim leader along with the rabbinic heads of the UK’s three denominations, including the Chief Rabbi. The most moving speaker, however, was a woman who grew up in Pittsburgh, was a Bat Mitzvah at Tree of Life and moved from there to London with her family just six months ago. As she shared that this most sacred space for her from childhood had been forever tarnished with hate and fear, the packed hall was crying with her. I read the names of the victims as we lit candles for them and shared that each light represents a whole world, a whole story, an Aitz Chayim, A Tree of Life.
It was hard for me not to be with you all at yesterday’s gathering at Har HaShem and I have been so moved by the outpouring of love and support from Christian and Muslim colleagues and their communities. In the pain and confusion and anger following this awful tragedy, I wasn’t even sure how much it was being felt here, so far away. To hear these prominent leaders, gathered at such short notice, speak one after the other about how this is an attack on all of us, delivered me the clear message that it really did. We are all Pittsburgh, we are one big Tree of Life and we have to keep singing. Together.
The Chief Rabbi charged everyone there from across the denominations to an act of courageous defiance. He told us all to go to shul this Shabbat! Many communities throughout the world will be packed this Shabbat as we all feel the need to be together, to be strong and to send our love and our songs and commitments to challenge hateful speech, racism and bigotry wherever we find it, out into the world, into Pittsburgh and beyond. That’s how we honor memories; by changing the culture, changing the world. Yes, we have to stand up against extremism in its various forms – from the far right, from the far left, but we also have to be willing to look inside and see the subtle ways in which we are complicit.
I hope that many of you will choose to be in shul as an act of spiritual solidarity and I am sorry that I will not be there to join my voice with yours. I am including below Rabbi Naomi Levy’s special prayer, written the day after the shooting. I am also sharing some resources from the American Psychological Association on Coping with Mass Shootings, Gun Violence and Hate Crimes, shared with us by Dr. Helen Coons.
Bonai Shalom and all of our shuls, churches, mosques, temples must continue to be places of sanctuary and safety for us all, even as those forces of darkness threaten them. Our presence, our prayers, our singing and being and learning together, our kindness and positive acts bring light into that darkness.
Blessing us all with strength and courage and healing,
A Prayer for the Dead of Tree of Life Congregation
By Rabbi Naomi Levy
We are devastated, God,
Our hearts are breaking
In this time of shock and mourning.
The loss is overwhelming.
Send comfort and strength, God,
To grieving family members.
Send healing to the injured,
Send strength and wisdom to their doctors and nurses.
Bless the courageous police officers who risked their lives
To protect innocent lives.
Shield us from despair, God,
Ease our pain.
Let our fears give way to hope.
Lead us to join together as a nation
To put an end to anti-Semitism,
An end to hatred,
An end to gun violence.
Teach us, God, to honor the souls we have lost
By raising our hands and voices together
In the cause of peace.
Because Torah is a Tree of Life
And all its paths are peaceful.
Work through us, God.
Turn our helplessness into action.
Teach us to believe that we can rise up from this tragedy
And banish the hate that is tearing our world apart.
We must never be indifferent to the plight of any who suffer.
We must learn to care,
To open our hearts and open our hands.
Innocent blood is calling out to us.
God of the brokenhearted,
God of the living, God of the dead,
Gather the souls of the victims
Into Your eternal shelter.
Let them find peace in Your presence, God.
Their lives have ended
But their lights can never be extinguished.
May they shine on us always
And illuminate our way.
Some resources on he American Psychological Association on Coping with Mass Shootings, Gun Violence and Hate Crimes.