Muslim, Jewish and Christian Solidarity after the Tree of Life Massacre

October 27, 2022Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner

I remember my visit to Pittsburgh, to the Tree of Life and Dor Hadash Synagogue just hours after the tragic massacre, the worst incident of violence against Jews in American history. It was also weeks before the 2018 midterm elections.

Thousands of us gathered in Soldiers and Sailors Hall, standing room only with countless others outside the venue watching on flat-screen TVs.

I witnessed Wasi Mohamed, executive director of the Islamic Center for Pittsburgh, commit to raise the money for the families of the victims and offered that his community would stand vigil outside synagogues to keep us safe. He was followed by a prominent Black pastor, Reverend Vincent Kolb who said three things:

First, let us remember that this was antisemitism, an attack on Jews – and an attack on Jews is an attack on all of us. Second, he reminded us that three days before two Black people were shot at a Kroger supermarket because the Black church the shooter tried to enter was locked, because of the murder of nine Black folks at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston three years before. And finally, he said this synagogue was targeted because Dor Hadash Congregation was a HIAS congregation – the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society – seeking to welcome refugees, migrants, and strangers.

We in Pittsburgh, he declared, are a solidarity city.

Spontaneously at that moment, thousands of people all around me started to chant: Vote! Vote! Vote!

I understood then the lesson that my own refugee grandmother’s journey taught me. She came to this country by herself when she was only 16 years old. A dreamer. A refugee. A stranger in a strange land who did not speak English and had no money. She had the courage to make the journey after she saw the rabbi of her town in Russia dragged to his death, his beard tied to a horse. She came here with a belief in America’s potential to be a place of safety and opportunity.

It is our shared history and experiences that are driving record engagement in the Reform Jewish Movement’s Every Voice, Every Vote Campaign this year. With so much on the line in the midterms this year, including our democracy itself, I am full of hope that our collective voices calling for a better, more inclusive world will prevail. 

What I witnessed in Pittsburgh proved to me that our safety comes in our solidarity. Our redemption as a nation – despite 400 years of systemic racism – may yet come through our democracy.


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