Tragedy unites pas­tor and Pitts­burgh rabbi

The Tribune (SLO) (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 per­se­cu­tion.

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 African-Amer­i­can 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 Emanuel’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 grave of Rose Mallinger, one of the 11 vic­tims of last week’s shoot­ing at the Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue named Tree of Life, awaits her burial last week in Pitts­burgh.

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