In sad­ness, ‘I also feel hope’

♦ Cel­e­brants of all faiths gather at Rodeph Sholom syn­a­gogue to pledge unity in the face of hate.

Rome News-Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - By Diane Wag­ner DWag­

Rome and Floyd County came to­gether as a com­mu­nity Mon­day night at a ser­vice of sol­i­dar­ity hosted by the Rodeph Sholom Jewish con­gre­ga­tion.

“The first thing I’m go­ing to do is cry,” said Shelly Peller, as she gazed on the stand­ing-room-only crowd over­flow­ing the sanc­tu­ary on East First Street.

More than 250 peo­ple of all ages, races and faiths gath­ered to mourn the 11 wor­shipers mur­dered last week in the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue out­side Pitts­burgh, to heal and to stand united against the ha­tred.

“This could have been any of us,” Peller said. “Jewish, Chris­tian, Mus­lim, any­one. It hap­pened a year ago in Charles­ton; there have been hate crimes in mosques; the num­ber of anti-semitic at­tacks are ris­ing.”

Rodeph Sholom — the words mean “pur­suers of peace” — has been in Rome since 1875, said Dr. Jeff Peller, pres­i­dent of the con­gre­ga­tion.

“We have not been spared, even here in Rome,” he said. “Yet de­spite a pro­found sad­ness, I also feel hope.”

Among the at­ten­dees were lead­ers of 17 dif­fer­ent con­gre­ga­tions around the county, from Bap­tist and Methodist to Pres­by­te­rian and Catholic. Chap­lains from Berry Col­lege and Floyd Med­i­cal Cen­ter also stood in sup­port.

Fa­ther John Her­ring of St. Peter’s Epis­co­pal Church spoke of the pipe bombs sent to po­lit­i­cal fig­ures, the racially mo­ti­vated shoot­ing of two black peo­ple in a gro­cery store and the mas­sacre in the syn­a­gogue.

He likened the path ahead to that of Joseph in the Bi­ble, who helped rather than sought re­venge on the jeal­ous broth­ers who sold him into slav­ery.

“We’re at a point in time that, like Joseph, we have choices,” Her­ring said. “I want to thank Rodeph Sholom for choos­ing love, for tak­ing steps to­ward re­la­tion­ships by invit­ing us all. No one would blame you if you shut down, but you chose love.”

The at­ten­dees shared in an hour-long ser­vice that in­cluded light­ing can­dles in me­mory of all the vic­tims of re­cent at­tacks. Fol­low­ing along in a pro­gram, af­ter coach­ing by Shelly Peller, they sang in He­brew, “How good and how pleas­ant it is for brethren to dwell to­gether.”

Bruce Gold­smith, who was born and raised in Pitts­burgh, shared his mem­o­ries of the fam­ily home started by his great grand­par­ents, who fled Rus­sia dur­ing the anti-Jewish pogroms in the 1880s.

“So this is not new to us. We just didn’t ex­pect it here,” Gold­smith said with a wry smile, be­fore adding that, “Pitts­burgh is a small com­mu­nity like Rome is. It’s not like New York City or Los An­ge­les.”

There was the Mourner’s Kad­dish, re­cited in Ara­maic, that doesn’t men­tion death. “It’s a cel­e­bra­tion of God,” Shelly Peller said. Then prayers and re­sponses from the pro­gram and the Prayer for Heal­ing. “Help us find the courage to make our lives a bless­ing,” they sang to­gether.

Terri Mor­gan of One Com­mu­nity United — formed in 2016 in re­sponse to a neoNazi rally in Rome — of­fered the group’s con­do­lences and un­con­di­tional sup­port.

“When you take time to get to know peo­ple, it’s much harder to be afraid and di­vided,” she said.

Berry pro­fes­sor Michelle Haney said the col­lege is host­ing a sol­i­dar­ity ser­vice at 5 p.m. Wed­nes­day in the Kran­nert Cen­ter and the com­mu­nity is in­vited.

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