Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv. lights a candle for one of the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting alongside other members of the interfaith community Oct. 30 at Congregation Agudath Achim in Savannah. Photograph by Jessica L. Marsala.

Interfaith vigil for Pittsburgh shooting victims held a synagogue in Savannah

Originally Appeared in : 9823-11/8/18

SAVANNAH--Members of diverse faith communities gathered Oct. 30 at Congregation Agudath Achim in Savannah to commemorate the victims of the Oct. 27 attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pennsylvania.


Prompted by the shooting of eleven Jewish congregants at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, also known as the L’Simcha, the conservative congregation in Savannah welcomed both its Jewish and non-Jewish brothers and sisters to stand together in solidarity against the attack and other acts of religious intolerance. 


 Though much divides the Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, Muslim, Catholic, Episcopal and Baptist faiths, whose local leaders spoke during the interfaith vigil, the faith communities united in their shared belief that evil doesn’t stand a chance when humans stick together and choose to love. 


“The world may ignore it, but they cannot escape it. The world may reject it, but they cannot hide from it. The ungodly and the evil despite it, but they cannot destroy it. The wicked may denounce it but they cannot corrupt it,” said Reverend George Lee III, pastor of St. John Baptist Church in Savannah, of love. “The vaunted disregard it but they cannot eliminate it. The vulgar may blaspheme, but they cannot change it. The skeptics may question it, but they cannot overrule it.” 


In his address to those gathered, Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., read “A Litany of Remembrance,” a Jewish poem by Rabbis Sylvan Kamens and Jack Riemer which describes how the deceased will be remembered in all seasons and circumstances. 


“So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them,” concluded Bishop Hartmayer. Other local Catholic priests and parishioners also attended the vigil including Bishop Emeritus J. Kevin Boland; Father Gerard Schreck, rector of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist; Father Pablo Migone, chancellor and vocations director; Father Michael Kavanaugh, director of ecumenism and pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Church; and Father John Lyons, pastor of Sacred Heart Church.


Among the other speakers at the interfaith vigil: Daniel Chapman, who serves on the board of the local Jewish Educational Alliance, but attested that he used to live in Pittsburgh and worship at the Tree of Life synagogue as a child. Chapman said that he had known many of the victims of the shooting.


“Being Jewish is more than prayers and brisket. It’s an intellectual, and it’s a moral struggle with a world that’s changing,” Chapman said, after reflecting on the lessons of social justice and community that he learned at the Tree of Life such as Hillel’s “If I’m not for myself, then who will be for me? If I’m only for myself, then what am I? If not now, when.” “And our Jewish community and our Jewish education cannot be a statement: It can’t be ‘This is what it means to be Jewish and nothing else.’” 


The vigil, which interspersed sung Jewish prayers of peace, love and healing and a performance of Psalm 23 with its interfaith speeches, also featured a ceremonial lighting of 11 candles, one for each victim of the Pittsburgh shooting.


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