In sadness, ‘I also feel hope’
♦ Celebrants of all faiths gather at Rodeph Sholom synagogue to pledge unity in the face of hate.
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.