Large Interfaith Gathering Supports Jewish Community

Friday, November 2, 2018, 7:18 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Upwards of five hundred people gathered at East Lansing’s Congregation Shaarey Zedek last night to support the Jewish community in the wake of Saturday’s massacre of eleven people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.

The service was led by Rabbi Amy Bigman (above) who thanked all those who had come together for this event “from the bottom of our hearts.” Bigman praised her fellow members of the Interfaith Clergy Association of Greater Lansing for supporting her and other members of the Jewish community in this time of suffering.

Bigman remembered that the first social media post she saw following the assault in Pittsburgh was from the East Lansing Islamic Center, expressing support for the Jewish community. She and others who spoke recollected having to similarly support the Islamic community following threats and assaults on that community.

The Reverend Alice Townley of the Presbyterian Church of Okemos spoke formally on behalf of the Interfaith Clergy Association, naming antisemitism as “evil” and speaking to the importance of people across faiths in this area “holding hands” in the face of hateful acts.

“We have held hands and walked together towards the area being buffeted,” Townley said. “Westboro Baptist Church came, and we partied for peace and swept away the hate. When the Islamic Center was targeted, we wrote a declaration of support and showed up in prayer. When anti-refugee rhetoric started getting louder, we formed the All Faith Alliance for Refugees. When a white supremacist came to the University last winter, we celebrated diversity. We have come together tonight to weep, to pray, to hold hands, and to express our care for you, our Jewish brothers and sisters.” (Read her remarks here.)

Imam Sohail Chaudhry expressed “on behalf of the Islamic Center and the entire Muslim community our deepest condolences, message of solidarity . . . and unconditional love.” Along with The Reverend Rob Carlson of the Presbyterian Church of Okemos, the Imam read a formal resolution from the Interfaith Clergy Association, which was based on one previously written to support the Islamic Center.

Below, from left: Bigman, Zimmerman, Townley, Chaudhry, and Carlson.

The resolution, signed afterwards by many other clergy present, declared the group’s “intention to always stand in solidarity with all people whose humanity has been violated” and stated a commitment “to continue building relationships of mutual trust and respect through shared education, fellowship, and outreach.” (The entire resolution is visible here.)

In response to what it called the "hate filled shooting" in Pittsburgh and another in Kentucky, in which two African Americans were killed by a man who is reported to have first tried to enter an African American church gathering where doors were locked, East Lansing's City Council passed a resolution Tuesday night. It declared this "a week of grieving for the victims of gun violence" and ordered the City's American flags to be flown at half-mast. 

At last night's service, Cantor emerita Pamela Schiffer (below) led the congregation in songs of praise, thanksgiving, and grief in both Hebrew and English. Following the singing of a song based on the verse “We will build this world from love,” Rabbi Michael Zimmerman of Lansing’s Kehillat Israel spoke to the partnership between God and humanity, and told those present, “We must prepare the world” for that partnership.

Bigman ended the service by asking members of her congregation to hand out sweets to people as they exited the service. She suggested that while the bitterness of last Saturday’s loss would remain with those present for some time, it is important to also remember the sweetness of life.

 

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[Editor's Note: The last name of Imam Sohail Chaudhry was originally misspelled, and has been corrected.]

 

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