There is Nothing So Precious – An Interfaith Response to the Tree of Life Shooting

by Peter Whitelock

Categories: Past Events

Remarks at the B’nai Shalom Service after the Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting
By Terry Clark, President of the Interfaith Council
October 30, 2018

Shalom. Peace. On behalf of the Interfaith Council, 108 congregations of several dozen faiths and denominations, I am both humbled and privileged to stand in solidarity with you this evening to commemorate the losses of our fellow Jewish brothers and sisters in the horrific Pittsburgh shootings. Our Executive Director, Rev. Will McGarvey, would be joining me but must send his regrets, since he was called to Utah to be with his family.

There is nothing so precious as a life; and your community, our community, the Pittsburgh community has lost 11 precious lives of unique, caring and contributing individuals devoted each in their own ways to serving and helping others. These lives were senselessly lost in an unspeakable crime of hate-filled domestic terrorism. The pain, the outrage, the anguish, the abiding grief we all feel is palpable. The shock at the baseless and unimaginable animosity fueling the killer’s actions is overwhelming.

Where is the HOPE? Our shared hope starts where it has always been, grounded in the scriptural passages to “Trust in the Lord” and “Love Your Neighbor”… and then move into action together, informed and guided by the traditions and values that are common to all of our faiths.

Our nation was founded upon the principles and values of freedom of religion, freedom to assemble and worship, freedom to be safe in our own sanctuaries, freedom to rest in the assurance of our own domestic tranquility, and freedom to engage in the pursuit of our lives of faith in liberty and happiness.

Over the past 200-plus years, unless you are a Native American, all of our ancestors came to this country to participate in, enjoy, support and sustain these freedoms. The congregants of Tree of Life in Pittsburgh have been doing just that over a prolonged period of time, in particular welcoming and assisting refugees in acclimating to the United States, working through the government authorized agency HIAS [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society], with the biblical imperative “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” [An HIAS leader was quoted in a NYT article on this tragedy: “We used to welcome refugees because they were Jewish. Today we welcome refugees because we are Jewish.”]

Incredibly, the shooter sought out and visited his violence upon the Tree of Life congregation precisely because they were making possible the welcoming of needy strangers that our nation’s traditions, values, Constitution and laws demand. A more inexcusable attack on any people of faith exercising those bedrock principles and values cannot be imagined; and any attack on those principles and values – whether in the form of violent assault or hate-filled rhetoric – is unmistakably an attack on us all.

These are fundamental moral issues, not political questions. Yet there is abundant evidence that the increased onslaught of hate-filled and violence-inducing speech in the name of politics over the past several years has unfortunately contributed greatly to many recent tragedies culminating in the Pittsburgh shootings.

Even on the heels of that horrific tragedy, one high profile leader in our nation directed blame at the Tree of Life victims. But blaming the victims is tantamount to saying that these types of heinous hate crimes must be accepted as the “new normal” in our country and are to be expected. That is not who we are! The Interfaith Council wholeheartedly rejects bigotry, violence and any such suggestion of that expectation as the “new normal.”

Nor can we any longer allow the garnering of votes and political agendas to be valued over human lives. In my recent visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, I was struck hard by the incredible similarities between the events of the 1930’s in Nazi Germany and the increasing direction of some political leaders in our country to foster Anti-Semitism and demonize ”the other.”

Tonight I am most mindful of Anne Frank’s words that “The final forming of a person’s character lies in their hands;” and how we respond to the hate in our midst lies in our hands. So I would dearly love very much to stand before you tonight and discuss solutions, dealing with:

  • Harnessing political hate speech
  • Mental health concerns
  • The marginalized loners who become the violent actors
  • Common sense gun safety approaches
  • Electing leaders who share your values
  • Securing honesty, openness and action from those leaders
  • And a myriad of other issues we can address.

There is so much to do, and that can be done, through the unity of our diversity, informed and guided by the traditions and values that are common to all of our faiths. But tonight is not a time for discussing solutions. That will come next in the days ahead.

Tonight is a time for grieving and healing, remembering, and standing firmly together.

The Interfaith Council thus grieves, prays, remembers and stands united together with you.

Moving forward in the days that lie ahead, may the bright Light of the Lord, God of us all, shine on the HOPE that is provided by our togetherness! Amen.