‘Not again’: Yet an­other tragedy unites Charleston pas­tor and Pitts­burgh rabbi

The Bradenton Herald (Sunday) - - Nation & World - BY KEVIN SACK


An African Methodist pas­tor, dressed in a dark suit and white cler­i­cal col­lar, greeted a Con­ser­va­tive rabbi, wear­ing a black over­coat and match­ing fe­dora, in the lobby of a down­town ho­tel Fri­day morn­ing. They spread their arms wide and em­braced at length, the rabbi pat­ting the pas­tor rhyth­mi­cally on the back as the pas­tor drew him close. Words were not nec­es­sary.

The two men had never met, but for a week they have been bound by the un­speak­able grief of two un­con­scionable des­e­cra­tions. The pas­tor was the Rev. Eric S.C. Man­ning, who leads the Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine parish­ioners were shot to death in a racist at­tack dur­ing a Wed­nes­day night Bi­ble study on June 17, 2015. The rabbi was Jef­frey My­ers of the Tree of Life con­gre­ga­tion in Pitts­burgh’s Squir­rel Hill neigh­bor­hood, where 11 wor­ship­pers were gunned down dur­ing shab­bat ser­vices last Satur­day.

When a vir­u­lent an­tiSemite walked through un­locked doors into a house of God that morn­ing and opened fire on be­liev­ers in prayer, the analo­gies to the mas­sacre at Emanuel AME church be­came in­escapable. Here within 40 months were two ruth­lessly mur­der­ous at­tacks in the most sa­cred of spa­ces, vic­tim­iz­ing mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties – one racial, one re­li­gious – that share a cen­turies-long strug­gle against big­otry and perse- cu­tion.

In both in­stances, the gunmen left a cache of hate-filled on­line com­men­tary and ea­gerly vol­un­teered their mo­tives.

“I have to do this,” Dy­lann Roof, who was 21 at the time, told his AfricanAmer­i­can vic­tims in Emanuel’s fel­low­ship hall as he fired 77 shots from a Glock semi-au­to­matic hand­gun, “be­cause y'all are rap­ing our women and y'all are tak­ing over our world,” ac­cord­ing to sur­vivors who tes­ti­fied at his 2016 trial.

Shortly be­fore the as­sault on the sy­n­a­gogue, which po­lice say in­volved four weapons, in­clud­ing a Glock .357, Robert Bow­ers, 46, ex­plained him­self in a so­cial me­dia post. “I can’t sit by and watch my peo­ple get slaugh­tered,” he wrote. “Screw your op­tics, I’m go­ing in.” Af­ter his sur­ren­der, he told a SWAT of­fi­cer that he “wanted all Jews to die” be­cause they “were com­mit­ting geno­cide against his peo­ple,” ac­cord­ing to a crim­i­nal com­plaint.

De­spite what likely will be over­whelm­ing phys­i­cal and wit­ness ev­i­dence, Bow­ers pleaded not guilty Thurs­day to 44 fed­eral counts, in­clud­ing hate crimes that will carry a pos­si­ble death sen­tence if, as pledged, the Jus­tice De­part­ment pur­sues it.

Like Roof, who was con­victed and sen­tenced to death, Bow­ers re­quested a jury trial.

Man­ning heard about the Pitts­burgh shoot­ings last Satur­day morn­ing when his smart­phone vi­brated with a news alert. He was at Emanuel, par­tic­i­pat­ing in a panel dis­cus­sion about the Charleston mas­sacre for a vis­it­ing group of young lawyers. His heart sank.

“Not again,” he re­called think­ing.

He had be­come Ema- nuel’s pas­tor in Jan­uary 2016, tasked with the com­plex job of heal­ing a deeply wounded church, which now at­tracts large num­bers of out-of-town vis­i­tors. He filled the pul­pit once oc­cu­pied by the Rev. Cle­menta C. Pinck­ney, the first per­son shot by Roof. (As it hap­pens, Pinck­ney, named for the leg­endary Pitts­burgh Pi­rate Roberto Clemente, was a huge Pitts­burgh Steel­ers fan.)

As Emanuel’s 9:30 a.m. ser­vice be­gan last Sun­day, Man­ning ar­ranged for the church bell to peal 11 times in honor of Pitts­burgh’s dead, just as it had nine times in 2015 in trib­ute to Charleston’s fallen. He struc­tured his ser­mon around Proverbs 18:21 – “the tongue has the power of life and death” – and em­pha­sized that “the words that come out of your mouth can do much harm and/or much good.”

By Sun­day af­ter­noon, Man­ning knew he wanted to be in Pitts­burgh, to lend sol­i­dar­ity, to of­fer so­lace and ad­vice, to prac­tice what he calls a “min­istry of pres­ence.” He and his wife flew up Thurs­day night, and on Fri­day he met for two hours with My­ers in the ho­tel cof­fee shop.

The rabbi in­vited him to speak Fri­day af­ter­noon at the last of 11 fu­ner­als over four days, for 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, the old­est of the vic­tims. He read from the 23rd Psalm.

The sy­n­a­gogue shoot­ings also re­ver­ber­ated in Pitts­burgh’s black churches. On Thurs­day evening, Bethel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church, just a few miles from Squir­rel Hill, hosted a mul­ti­faith prayer ser­vice to show sup­port for the Jewish com­mu­nity. “Our grief is your grief, and our tears are min­gled with yours,” said McKin­ley Young, a se­nior bishop in the AME church.

The killings in Charleston be­came a na­tional touch­stone not only be­cause they evinced such a shock­ing level of in­dis­crim­i­nate vi­o­lence. Also cen­tral to the mo­ment were the spon­ta­neous ex­pres­sions of for­give­ness for the killer ex­pressed by some vic­tims’ fam­ily mem­bers, at a bond hear­ing only two days af­ter the at­tack.

Their views were not shared by all in Charleston or in the church, or even within their fam­i­lies. But their demon­stra­tions of Chris­tian grace moved peo­ple around the world.

“I was so over­pow­ered by that,” Rabbi Chuck Di­a­mond, who re­tired from the Tree of Life sy­n­a­gogue two years ago, re­mem­bered this week. “I was so im­pressed, and kind of wished I could be that good.”

But, Di­a­mond and other lead­ers here said, there has not been much talk of for­give­ness for the sy­n­a­gogue gun­man within Pitts­burgh’s Jewish com­mu­nity.

“Quite the con­trary,” said Rabbi Danny Schiff, an ethi­cist and the foun­da­tion scholar at the Jewish Fed­er­a­tion of Greater Pitts­burgh. “All the Jews I’m in con­tact with re­gard him as a per­son who is be­neath con­tempt.”

Jews in­ter­viewed here said they had been too busy bury­ing the dead, and trekking from shiva to shiva, to de­vote much thought to the killer. But Jewish the­olo­gians also ex­plained that their tra­di­tion, rooted more in the re­tribu­tive jus­tice of the Old Tes­ta­ment than the turn-the-cheek ethos of the New Tes­ta­ment, takes a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to for­give­ness.

Un­der the guide­lines for re­pen­tance, or teshu­vah, when man sins against God, say by vi­o­lat­ing rules of the Sab­bath, he may seek for­give­ness through con­fes­sion and prayer. But when man sins against man, the of­fender must seek and re­ceive for­give­ness from the vic­tim, af­ter mak­ing resti­tu­tion.

“Once the vic­tim is not around any­more, that be­comes im­pos­si­ble,” Schiff said. “And we have an in­di­vid­ual who was yelling ‘All Jews must die,’ and when taken into cus­tody con­tin­ued to yell an­tiSemitic slurs. There’s not the slight­est in­di­ca­tion that he would even seek for­give­ness.”

The rit­u­als of the af­ter­math in Pitts­burgh seemed sick­en­ingly fa­mil­iar all week. The side­walk memo­ri­als of flow­ers and hand-scrib­bled mes­sages. The night­mar­ish lo­gis­tics of planning so many fu­ner­als. The ini­tial court ap­pear­ances by de­fi­antly un­re­pen­tant per­pe­tra­tors.


The Rev. Eric S.C. Man­ning, who leads Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church in Charleston, S.C., left, meets with Rabbi Jef­frey My­ers of the Tree of Life con­gre­ga­tion.

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