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PSR Statement on the Attack on Tree of Life Synagogue

My heart is in deep grief at the horrendous killing of 11 worshippers at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—the deadliest attack ever on Jews in the United States.  My prayers, and those of our community, are with the victims’ families and communities:

Joyce Fienberg
Richard Gottfried
Rose Mallinger
Jerry Rabinowitz
Cecil Rosenthal
David Rosenthal
Bernice Simon
Sylvan Simon
Daniel Stein
Melvin Wax
Irving Younger

In the words of the ancient funeral prayer: Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord: and let light perpetual shine upon them.

The anti-Semitic atrocity in Pittsburgh follows a week of hatred expressed in the killing of Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones, two African American elders in Kentucky; mail-bomb threats on the lives of critics of the current administration; cowardly and incendiary rhetoric vilifying those escaping violence and fear in Central America; and attacks on civil rights protections through an attempt to narrowly define gender. This litany of terror goes on and threatens to undermine our capacity to comprehend and to respond.

I grew up singing the words of Rabbi Nacham of Bratslav: “The whole world is a very narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid.”  These words, known to many Jewish communities as a beloved camp song,  name the reality that the journey of life can feel difficult and uncertain, so the important thing is not to be afraid.  To resist fear, we must seek ways to draw deeply on the many ways in which God makes a claim on us.  Through our faith traditions God calls us not to fear, but rather to a vision of the world that is expansive, faith-filled, and bold.

Those of us for whom God’s claim is made most evident in the person of Jesus Christ, are called to reach “al otro lado,” to the other side; to see God most fully present in a vulnerable child, born in poverty and on the margins, knowing the reality of a refugee as did his ancestors.  Like many of our faith traditions, Christians have found God most fully on the margins.  That’s where we must find God today.

In the rituals of our faith traditions we find the depth to be able to name the reality of brokenness, grief, and deep loss.  But also the ability to speak hope in the midst of that reality.   In our worship life, our daily labor, and our social and political engagement, we must rehearse these habits of life.   The Jewish mourner’s prayer—the Mourner’s Kaddish–will frame the grieving in the days and years ahead for the community at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.   May its concluding words, echoed in the word of the Lord’s prayer, also shape our hope and commitment: May the One who makes peace in heaven, make peace for us all.  Amen.


Rev. Dr. David Vásquez-Levy
Pacific School of Religion

A GTU-wide prayer vigil will be held on the PSR campus beginning at 4:30 p.m. in the Chapel.