At the Synagogue

The Synagogue of the Hills is a small congregation, a member of the Union for Reform Judaism. Its members have repeatedly demonstrated warm hospitality when we have visited, most frequently as a part of teaching the children of our church about Judaism. Because our Christian faith grew out of Judaism and because our roots involve a long discussion preserved in our scriptures about whether or not all Christians should be required to become Jews, it is important to understand Judaism in order to understand Christianity. We also make a visit to the synagogue a part of our Christian education programs because of the horrors of anti-semitism that scarred the 20th century. The Holocaust was the earth’s most brutal and awful display of attempted genocide. Over six million precious lives were taken because of hatred and fear. The Nazi regime arose in a Christian nation and the world witnessed the worst of humanity. When we visited Dachau concentration camp in Germany, walked its parade grounds, peered into the barracks, and looked at the crematorium ovens we joined with others to pledge our lives that this should never happen again. We promised that we would never forget. Again, when we took our children to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum we promised to never forget the horrors of anti-semitism.

Last night the Synagogue was packed with and extended community of people who gathered to stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters as we mourned the deaths of eleven who were slain at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh a week ago. I was drawn to the Synagogue and the Shabbat Service as a small way of rededicating myself to stand with all who are oppressed.

The service began with a gracious welcome and a time of reflection as the names of the slain were read and candles were lit. We listened as a pair of cellos played a traditional song and allowed to music to inspire our prayers. After the memorial, we participated in the traditional Shabbat service, which is a celebration of the sabbath and a time of prayer and praise to God. In place of the traditional reading and session from the Torah there was an informal discussion of the importance of our gathering. Although I do not read Hebrew well and there were parts of the service that are not familiar to me, I felt at home in the gathering. The Hebrew Scriptures that Christians claim as our “Old Testament” are shared between our faiths and I have studied Hebrew enough to be able to follow along when the service is read. But even if this were the first visit to a Synagogue, which it was for some who attended, it would be clear that the service is one of reverence and joy and community. Like being invited into any other private family celebration, there may be some elements that are unfamiliar, but the tone and the mood is warm and welcoming.

It was an amazing gathering. As we looked around the room, we could recognize friends who were Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Buddhist. I know that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that are commonly called Mormons consider themselves to be Christian, but at times our separation from that community has been deep enough that it functions as a separate religion. There was a young Mormon friend present as well. We had all gathered, without any formal organization or invitation simply because we wanted to show our unity with the families of the Synagogue.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents increased 57% in the US in 2017, compared to the previous year. There were cases reported in every state of the US for the first time since 2010. With alarming frequency, swastikas and messages like “Hitler was not wrong,” “Kill all Jews” and “No Jews” have appeared on synagogues, Jewish graves and homes and school campuses. “Anti-Semitism is a complicated, stubborn phenomenon,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League. “[The cases] are disturbing and upsetting, and they demonstrate that we live in a nation where bigots still foment fear and hate.”

The attack last week was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in recent history, and perhaps the deadliest in all of US history. The gunman reportedly said “All Jews must die,” as he shot indiscriminately against worshipers gathered for Shabbat at the Tree of Life synagogue. Eleven people, aged between 54 and 97 were killed.

Our witness is important. If those who hate turn their venom against Jews, they need to know that I stand with my Jewish brothers and sisters.

Last night I found that I am not alone. We are a rich and diverse community of people. Not only did the gathering last night include people of many different faiths, it included people of different perspectives. I recognized a prominent Republican leader in our community and a Democratic candidate for the State Legislature. We didn’t speak of politics. We spoke of grief and unity and community. Anti-Semitism is not just a political problem. It is a human problem. And last night we were not in search of political solutions, but rather of human solutions.

In the midst of the Shabbat service there is a time when prayers for healing are recited. Before the prayers, worshipers are invited to call out the names of those who are ill and in need of prayer. One of the leaders of the synagogue, called out the name of one of the members of my congregation, a dear friend of mine who is afflicted with cancer that can no longer be treated. I felt a tear in the corner of my eye as i realized that they have been praying for us all along.

We have our differences. But we are one community. When hatred rears its ugly head, whether in the form of harsh and unthinking words or in deeds of violence we are all victims. We must resist hatred in whatever form it presents itself.

I am not one for taking up signs and marching in the streets. But I know the power of worship. I am grateful to be so warmly welcomed to the worship of our Jewish sisters and brothers.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!