After Charleston, Jewish groups unite in interfaith show of solidarity

An interfaith vigil to show solidarity with African American AME church members in Charleston was held in Silver Spring, Photo provided by JCRC
An interfaith vigil to show solidarity with African American AME church members in Charleston was held in Silver Spring,
Photo provided by JCRC

On the same day that Bible study resumed at the Charleston, S.C., church where nine people were gunned down, about 165 people representing many faiths stood together June 24 in a prayer vigil in Silver Spring.

And during this past Shabbat, area synagogues featured sermons, prayers or readings during a Shabbat of Solidarity with the African-American community. Many synagogues included the names of the nine church victims while reciting the names of those whose yahrzeits were this week.

Eighteen Jewish organizations pledged solidarity with the people of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and addressed head on the issues of hate and racism, said Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, who organized the effort.

Weinblatt told congregants at the People’s Community Baptist Church in Silver Spring on Sunday, “You are not alone.  We feel your loss.  Your pain is our pain.”

Speaking from the pulpit, Weinblatt spoke of how Jews and African-Americans have both been the victims of hate and violence. “Our history is so much like your history.  Our stories are intertwined.”

The four leading Jewish movements — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist — as well as major Jewish organizations including AJC; Hillel International; the Anti-Defamation League; the Simon Wiesenthal Center; the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; and both the National Jewish Democratic Council and the Republican Jewish Coalition participated either during Shabbat or by attending an AME church service on Sunday.

“The fact that so many responded so quickly and enthusiastically from so many different movements shows the unity of the Jewish community in reaffirming our commitment to pursue justice for all and the importance of our alliance with the African American community,” Weinblatt said.

The purpose was to let the African American community know that Jewish people stood with them “in sympathy and solidarity.” Weinblatt, president of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America, personally called on Jewish groups to use this moment to speak to their members, especially the younger ones, about Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement. “It’s a chance to reaffirm and remind ourselves of the shared experience,” he stressed.

Efforts to show solidarity began even before this week’s Shabbat. At a June 24 prayer vigil at the Silver Spring Civic Center, the interfaith audience listened to short speeches and prayers from groups including the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, the Montgomery County Muslim Foundation, Black Ministers Conference of Montgomery County and the Montgomery County Commission on Human Rights.

Attending were Christians of various denominations, Jews, Sikhs and Muslims, said Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, JCRC’s director of social justice initiatives. “It was an incredibly diverse community.”

She called the event “beautiful,” and described those in attendance as “determined” to fight racism.

“There is a definite sense of mourning for the victims of the massacre, but also that sense of we have to come together as a community to combat racism,” she said.

During the rally, Steinlauf told the crowd that “[I]t is our responsibility as Jews, and as human beings, to affirm the sanctity of every life and our commitment to building a just society where every individual is valued and cherished.”

She continued, “We are here to mourn for the innocent who have been murdered, and we are here to oppose hate and all who act hatefully.  We are here to affirm that when we look into face of every human being, we look into a reflection of the face of God, whether that face is black, brown, or white.

“The diversity of humanity testifies to the greatness of God.”

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