The aftermath of the Pittsburgh massacre united the Jewish world in mourning and laid bare the self-evident truth that the values that unite us as Jews are far greater than our partisan and ideological differences, writes Rabbi Fabian Sborovsky of Menorah Synagogue and Chair of the Assembly of Reform Rabbis and Cantors UK.
The entire Jewish community was horrified by the sobering awareness that it could have been any of us. As one, we stand side by side in solidarity as we mourn for those who were brutally murdered for no other reason than for being Jews praying together in shul on Shabbat. We recognise in in the image and names and those who were massacred a familiarity not unlike our own family and community.
Having lived in Pittsburgh for several years, and now having the privilege to serve as rabbi in South Manchester, it was especially heart warming to receive an invitation by a colleague to join together with all Jewish communities in South Manchester for a cross communal candlelit vigil planned for the following day in memory of the shooting victims. As rabbi of the only community affiliated with egalitarian progressive Judaism in South Manchester, the symbolism of coming together as one felt especially poignant as a fitting tribute of Jewish unity to honour those martyred in a like-minded congregation in Pittsburgh, a city I used to call home.
As the ceremony progressed, all my South Manchester colleagues present were invited to speak, reading psalms and prayers in a show of unity with the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. Holding a candle with flames flickering in the wind, I found especially poignant the words of Rabbi Portnoy calling on us to ‘turn bitterness into love and reach out and bring people together. Rabbi Portnoy further urged all present to ‘honour the dignity of difference and learn to live in co-existence’, proclaiming a loud and clear call ‘to be proud of who we are and reach out to our neighbours and turn our communities to a hive of peace’.
Sharon Bannister, president of the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region addressed the vigil with heart-warming reports of solidarity from the Muslim community in Pittsburgh and in our country. She reminded those gathered the ominous warning experienced all too often in Jewish history that incitement against others often ‘begins with words but doesn’t end there’.
The mayor of Manchester, Andy Burham, spoke movingly as he addressed all Jewish communities in South Manchester with words of hope and support. He condemned the hatred of Jews behind the murderous attacks in Pittsburgh and all hate-motivated atrocities such as the massacre in Orlando perpetrated against the LGBTQ+ community solely for being who they are. All present were inspired with hope, moved by the show of unity and solidarity. The national anthem and Hatikvah concluded the moving event. The effect was stunning.
All rabbis present serving South Manchester congregations were invited to speak. The exception being the local representative of the one Jewish community affiliated with Progressive Judaism in South Manchester. In this show of unity, I was singled out to be excluded. I was never told of the plan nor sent an order of service until I witnessed the event.
Excluding living Progressive Jews to honour murdered ones is not a fitting tribute to the Pittsburgh martyrs but a mockery. It is also a slap in the face to the dignitaries in attendance and the community who came to show unity and honour the dead in good faith and completely unaware of divisions.
It shouldn’t be up to anti-Semites to teach us there’s no difference between different kinds of Jews.
It remains a self-evident truth that the values that unite us as Jews are far greater than our partisan and ideological differences.
In the aftermath of Pittsburgh, there’s no greater tribute than true unity and solidarity.
I look forward to the day we learn to honour our differences and love our fellow as ourselves.