Student Rabbi Jonathan Falco stood at the sanctuary bimah and read the names of the 11 Pittsburgh dead, then invited the congregation to rise for El Ma’alei Racham’im, the prayer for the souls of the departed.
“The victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue were robbed of their opportunity to fulfill the commandment to keep and remember and celebrate the Sabbath. Tonight, we move forward with doing just that — continuing our Shabbat service and celebrating in their memory,” Jonathan said.
Some 100 people attended Shabbat services Friday, Nov. 2, at United Hebrew Congregation’s historic Temple Israel, six days after the fatal attack on Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Local churches turn out in solidarity with Jewish neighbors
Guests from the Terre Haute community made up the majority of the worshippers, as members of Central Christian Church, Covenant Church of Jesus Christ, Terre Haute Central Presbyterian Church and 2nd Missionary Baptist Church, among others, attended as a gesture of support.
“This paradox is always the status of the Jew — to be not home and at home at all times, in all places.”
Jonathan called upon the week’s Torah portion, The Life of Sarah, and the words of Sarah’s husband Abraham to describe the cultural “paradox” perpetually facing the Jewish community, that sometimes results in threats to their safety.
“Abraham defines himself as a stranger, resident among you.
“How is it possible to be a ger — stranger — and a toshav — resident?” Jonathan asked. “They’re generally considered to be mutually exclusive. This paradox is always the status of the Jew — to be not home and at home at all times, in all places.
“An important part of the story is how we respond to attacks against our identity. How do we respond to hate; how do we act when facing menace?”
Rabbi Hillel responds to provocation with patience
The answer may lie in Rabbi Hillel‘s response to the fool who attempted to goad him into anger, Jonathan said.
While Rabbi Sammei, when faced with provocation, attacked the fool with a rod, “Hillel remains respectful and patient in the face of the fool’s deliberately provocative behavior.”
The fool sought an emotional reaction, much like the individual who attached an anti-Semitic flyer to the UHC Temple door just days before the Tree of Life attack.
“How then do we respond to such fools? With patience and kindness, that we may bring them out of the shadows of their ignorance,” Jonathan said. Shammei “drove the fools away with the rod and Hillel answered them with kabed, or honor.”
To the assembled, Jonathan said, “you all being here tonight epitomize this honorable response. In being here together, we make sure the rod doesn’t fall into the fool’s hands.”
Tree of Life Synagogue emulated Sarah’s hospitality
“Sarah, along with Abraham, was known for her radical hospitality and warm welcoming nature. It’s how she lived her life. And it’s how we tell her story,” Jonathan said.
“The victims of this tragedy had their stories cut short. But we as a people continue to tell ours.”
“The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was targeted last Saturday as members sought to emulate Sarah’s kindness and hospitality by hosting refugee families with HIAS, [founded as] the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
“The victims of this tragedy had their stories cut short. But we as a people continue to tell ours. Tonight, we gather in the spirit of exhortation that comes from the Book of Samuel: Be strong and let us derive strength from one another on behalf of our people.”
Rabbi Silverman spoke after another attack, 60 years ago
Jonathan said, “I would like to leave us with a few inspiring words first spoken by the late Rabbi [William B.] Silverman to his congregation in Nashville after the bombing of the JCC there in 1958:
“We will not capitulate to fear. We will not surrender to violence. We will not submit to intimidation but as Jews we will continue to speak for truth.”
We will not yield to evil. We will not capitulate to fear. We will not surrender to violence. We will not submit to intimidation but as Jews we will continue to speak for truth. We will continue to dedicate ourselves to social justice and to the brotherhood of all humankind, knowing and believing that all are created in the divine image.
“Let these compelling words strengthen our resolve to respond anew to the prophets’ age-old mandate: ‘Hate what is evil, love what is good and establish justice in the gates.’
“And let us never lose sight of the fact that this is our historic and sacred responsibility. And let us leave this evening saying, ‘We, too, will never yield to evil.'”
Congregants and guests filled the Vestry Room to hear Student Rabbi Jonathan Falco conduct the kiddush and hamotzi.
Visitors lingered for coffee, cake and conversation at the traditional oneg, hosted by Temple Sisterhood.