Late last week, as you know, nine members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, were brutally murdered as they sat together with their Pastor in the fellowship of Bible study. They were doing what we at our temple do as Jews all the time, and what faith communities of all denominations do as well. They were doing what we as Americans take for granted in the our religious conscience and traditions.
This is being treated as a hate crime by the Charleston Police and the Federal Government. In addition, it seems to have struck a chord of particular revulsion for us as Americans. I think the reason for this is that we take for granted the right to free exercise of our religious conscience and traditions. And while we are staunchly committed to the legal separation of church and state, fundamentally America is a deeply religious country. The idea of people being brutally attacked when they are at prayer, or engaged in related religious activity, strikes at something very deep within the American psyche. In so many ways we seem to have lost our way in this country. This attack shines a light on the serious issues that we don’t seem to be able to address appropriately: gun control, effective diagnosis and treatment of those with mental and emotional disorders, an effective way to curb the effects of right-wing extremism within our country. These are obviously discussions for another time. But we can’t let our minds wander far from them, lest we forget.
For right now, however, our hearts go out to those who mourn. There are parents, spouses, children, siblings left behind, whose lives will never be the same. There are friends, fellow church members and colleagues, who are changed now forever.
In light of this I would like to make a suggestion to you. On a number of occasions when Jews have been the victims of attacks, I personally have received expressions of sympathy from Christian friends of mine. And the Jewish community as a whole has received expressions of sympathy from many around the world. I suggest that we at Union Temple, and our children as well, send expressions of sympathy to the members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. (To give full credit, my colleague from Troy, NY, Rabbi Deborah Gordon, posted a note about this gesture on the part of her congregation.) If I may suggest, we might consider including one or more of the our own traditional phrases of comfort that I am certain will resonate with the members of that church:
“May the Almighty comfort you amongst those who mourn.”
“May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing.”
“May the souls of your loved ones be bound up in the bond of eternal life.”
The address of the church is:
Emanuel AME Church
110 Calhoun Street
Charleston, SC 24901
Or, email: email@example.com.
I will be sending a short letter of condolence on temple stationery, and I hope that as many of you as possible will communicate with the people in Charleston. We cannot bring back their loved ones, but we can let them know that there are people of faith around the country who care about them.
If you would like to read a bit about the very interesting history of this church, which is known fondly to the community as “Mother Emanuel,” you can find it at: http://www.emanuelamechurch.
Many thanks to all.
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