Tragedy unites Charles­ton pas­tor and Pitts­burgh rabbi

The State (Sunday) - - Stay Connected - 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 per­se­cu­tion.

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

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.

“Not again,” he re­called think­ing.

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.


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

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