Tragedy unites Charleston pastor and Pittsburgh rabbi
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 persecution.
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.
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.