A Night to Remember
“A Prayer for the Whole Human Family.
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Book of Common Prayer, p. 815.
Last night we attended the packed service at Temple B’nai Israel led by Rabbi Barry Block for the eleven people who died at Tree of Life Congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburg during Jewish religious services on Saturday. As I looked out to the woods beyond their wall to wall glass windows at the front of Temple B’nai Israel sanctuary, I remember so many Christmas Eve services we participated in at the Temple when we were at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church before St. Margaret’s had a church building, and this congregation offered their space for us to worship.
One of the speakers last night mentioned that the part of the building we were in and also where the eleven worshippers were murdered is called a sanctuary, a safe place. This is what we all consider our places of worship to be, a safe place. Supposedly, that is why Episcopal Churches have red doors, a sign of a sanctuary, a safe place.
During most of the service, members of the congregation were adding more chairs as people continued to pour in. As you can see from our picture, we were at the far back but had seats thanks to Mary Manning from St. Mark’s who saved us our two seats. Eventually there was standing room only with faith leaders and politicians and friends I knew who were members of the congregation and many I knew I had seen before but could not recall their names. One of the physicians, Jim Aronson, whom we worked with at Children’s Hospital who grew up in Squirrel Hill and knew so many of those who died, spoke. Jim shared stories of Squirrel Hill and the Tree of Life Congregation as we began to become connected to that congregation as we were to the Jewish community here present in Little Rock.
Love, community, peace, compassion, empathy, friendship, common ground, togetherness, oneness dwelt in this sanctuary last night.
Perhaps two events that occurred as we were leaving may best describe what was happening. Two of the opposing candidates for mayor left with their arms embracing each other’s necks, one African American, one white. After the service, a social worker, Debby Brady, we knew from Children’s Hospital, a member of the congregation whom we had not seen in probably twenty years, insisted on driving us to our car several blocks away as she thanked us for being there.
We can still barely talk about it.