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Standing With the Pittsburgh Jewish Community on October 27, 2018

A Statement by Leaders Parliament of the World's Religions on A Massacre in a Pennsylvania Synagogue

Today we learned of a massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the United States. As we write this, the tragedy claimed the life of eleven people at the synagogue, and included bodily injury to many others as well as to first responders at the scene. This crime delivers a message of hate that is aimed at a whole people, their culture, and their freedom to assemble without fear of harm to practice their beliefs in the sanctity of their own house of worship. It is incontrovertible that the perpetration aimed to seek out these people, entrap them in their sacred space, kill and maim them, and to rupture their sense of safety in the world.

The Jewish people, alongside other peoples who faced genocide, know deeply the experience of historical rupture; today is one of those days when the memory of hate is too present once more.

As Executive Director, the Chair and Chair-Elect of the Board of Trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, we want these friends in Squirrel Hill to know, as we also do for all communities who are targets of hate, that we stand with you. We stand with your families and your communities. We also want you to know, that we believe aberrant hearts and minds are no match for our fullest humanity, expressed in the global impulses of religion to lead lives that are holy, resilient, loving and kind.

In that spirit, we are one with you. You are never alone.   Robert Sellers, Chair   Audrey Kitagawa, Chair-Elect   Larry Greenfield, Executive Director  [Read more].

The Unsurprised Mind

How could we be surprised? The novelist Rebecca West once said that Jews, having suffered so much, have an “unsurprisable mind.” Did we think that we, the American Jewish community, could splash blood upon our communal door and thus ward off the twin angels of hatred and death? [Read more from Religion News].

Statue of Liberty Hebrew Aid Society Immigrants Shooting Pittsburgh  Lilly Foundation Funding Grants Insights into Religion News Christianity

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

The Pittsburgh gunman embodied the cruelty that has sometimes stained the United States—but the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which he reviled, has long represented America at its most compassionate.

[Read more at The Atlantic].

Abraham Joshua Heschel

When the great Jewish theologian and academic Abraham Joshua Heschel, who authored numerous classic books and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil-rights movement, was growing up as a boy in Warsaw, he was often sent out in the mornings by his mother to purchase bread for the day. Leaving the house, he would avoid taking the most direct route to the bakery, so that he wouldn’t have to pass by the city’s great Catholic cathedral. Were he to walk in its shadow, he had learned from experience, he would be seized with an uncontrollable trembling, invariably thinking of all his community’s rabbinic forebears who over the years had been summoned to meet with the Christian hierarchy there, whose declarations held sway, and often for ill, in his Jewish community. [Read more].

Jewish Pittsburgh

By the mid-19th century, Jews from German lands began settling in Pittsburgh, later to be followed by Jews from the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires and Romania. They founded businesses and organizations such as Giant Eagle, Kaufmann's Department Store, Montefiore Hospital, the Pittsburgh Playhouse, the Civic Light Opera, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sophie Masloff became the first woman and the first Jew to serve as mayor, and civic reformer and lawyer A. Leo Weil, philanthropist Leon Falk Jr., and social justice crusader Florence Reizenstein all had schools named after them. From Allegheny City and "the Hill" to Squirrel Hill and the East End, the Jewish population preserved its distinct core community and contributed to its adopted city in multiple ways. Today, it numbers more than 40,000, and their story is one of grit, determination, risk taking, hard knocks, and no small measure of success.  [Read more]

Encouraging Respect with Hazon

Referring to the work of Hazon (the largest Jewish environmental group in the US) and the Arava Institue for Environmental Studies in Israel, Nigel Savage spoke about the shooting in the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, "Just the day before we’d done a session with students from the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, our partner on the Ride. Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian students, more than 30 of them, meeting in small groups with our riders. And we heard the same story, over and over, each one different, each one the same. This is how I grew up, this was my family… and I came here, and met these people who had very different histories from mine, very different understandings of the world… and it was hard…. And we wrestled…. And now we’re friends. Genuinely. Not that we agree on everything – we don’t – but we know each other and we care about each other.

And what I said this morning was: the fault line now is not between Israelis and Palestinians, or Democrats and Republicans. It’s between those who strive to use language with honesty and empathy and a desire to make things better; and those who use language to inflame, incite, exaggerate and demonize. That is what our tree of life has taught us these two millennia – that language, and respectful discourse and truth are utterly central to being Jewish. - Nigel Savage, Hazon

Here is another book about the Pittsburgh Jewish Community:

About the Dybbuks: Jewish Historical Fiction From Pittsburgh's Hill District  by Sue Lindenberg McClelland 

Sue Lindenberg McClelland is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist with an additional master's degree in Fine Arts and Fiction. She grew up in Pittsburgh's Hill District, where her father, Sidney Joseph Lindenberg (Lindy) had spent his childhood as a first-generation son of parents who had immigrated from Riga, Latvia in the early 1900's. As part of her master's degree program at Eastern Washington University, she wrote "About the Dybbuks" which is a series of interconnected short stories "my father never told." It is based on snippets of the stories her father did tell and interviews of people who also grew up in the Pittsburgh's Hill District and Squirrel Hill. 

Dates of the founding of Jewish Communities in the U.S, starting in the 1700s

Founding of Jewish communities in the U.S. starting in the 1700s Pittsburgh Tree of Life

Cultivating Active Participation
"Many faith communities and organizations employ such participatory processes to engage the entire congregation in renewing and reinvigorating worship services, coming to deeper ownership of congregational Shabbat practices and guidelines, and other areas of ritual. The role of clergy as teacher and guide—as well as active participant—is crucial to the success of such endeavors. By trusting that when we openly look at and name the dynamics of power, authority, and responsibility that we, as clergy or lay leaders, have in a congregational or organizational system, we can facilitate ownership by other members of the community for their part in the decision-making process—to everyone’s benefit.

An example of this occurred recently in my own life, when I became the visiting rabbi at a lay-led congregation, Dor Hadash, in Pittsburgh, a faith community experimenting with a hybrid of leadership models." [Read more from Alban at Duke Divinity School]

Interfaith Comity

"It's still unclear whether the pro- or anti-BDS forces will prevail in this battle within the church. Either way, this battle has wider implications for Presbyterian-Jewish relations in particular and Christian-Jewish relations in general. The fact that so much time and energy are expended within the church and the American Jewish community on this constant assault on Israel threatens interfaith comity. "[Read more from Religion News]




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