The murder of 11 Jews during Shabbat service at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this week stirred Jewish congregations around the country. On Oct. 30, Temple Kol Ami, West Hollywood’s LGBTQ Reform Synagogue, offered a night of comfort and healing for its congregants facing this troubling moment in American Jewish life. The service was enriched by moving music played by Assistant Rabbi Max Chaiken.
Rabbi Denise Eger opened the service saying that, sadly enough, this is not the first time people are gathered in shock after a person walks in somewhere and uses a gun to kill innocent people. “And I think, it won’t be the last time,” Rabbi Eger added. Moments like that require proper rituals of community grieving.
West Hollywood Mayor John J. Duran and Councilmember Lindsey P. Horvath addressed the congregation in deep mourning. “It has been a rough week for us,” said Duran. “The women and men in Pittsburgh were targeted because of their standing up for refugees. They were targeted by the politics we are facing right now.”
Horvath emphasized that the evening was not only for healing and comfort but also for supporting each other in these unsettling times.
Rabbi Eger reminded the congregation of the ethical obligation Torah teaches us: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We should do nothing else.
“It’s hard to be angry. It’s hard to grieve and to mourn. It’s hard when the country is so divided. It is hard when there is not a single conversation possible with this neighbor. But we have to go back to the basis: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’” Eger said. Only this could heal the country’s division and each other from the anger and pain.
Rabbi Eger spoke about anti-Semitism. “Many say anti-Semitism doesn’t exist. But the contrary is true. We are all obliged to name anti-Semitism as that what it is—to call it out, and never to be silent. Silence equals death,“ she said. “Whether it is the ‘innocent joke’ or the racist tweet – speak up!
We should begin peace within our hearts, our inner self,“ Rabbi Eger said. “Let us take it from there.”
The congregation was accompanied by interfaith partners. Reverend Dr. Keith Cox from the Center for Spiritual Living said: “When one of us is hurt, everyone is hurt.”
And Ani Zonneveld, President and Founder of Muslims for Progressive Values, reminded the congregants that the Quran teaches taking someone’s life means taking the life of humanity. These words were very important for the audience because the events in Pittsburgh are not just a Jewish issue—they are striking all Americans.
The service concluded with a prayer from Rabbi Danny Schiff, written in honor of the victims in Pittsburgh. It summarizes the emotions of this deeply moving evening: “And, in their honor, that is exactly how we will now continue on. Devastated, bereft, but utterly resolute… May their memory bless us all.”
Jan Wilkens is a visiting Jewish and LGBTQ scholar from Berlin, Germany.