Tree of Life rabbi pushes greater ties at Ur­ban League event

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Local News - By Paula Reed Ward

For decades, cen­turies even, Es­ther Bush said, African-Amer­i­can and Jewish com­mu­ni­ties have been fight­ing the same bat­tle to­gether.

For peace and eq­uity. Fair­ness and op­por­tu­nity.

That’s why the pres­i­dent and CEO of Ur­ban League of Greater Pitts­burgh felt it only ap­pro­pri­ate for Rabbi Jef­frey My­ers of Tree of Life/Or L’Sim­cha Con­gre­ga­tion to give the key­note speech at the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s 33rd an­nual Ur­ban League Sun­day event.

“It’s an op­por­tu­nity to grow ties with the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity,” Rabbi My­ers said. “To me, that’s im­por­tant. There’s so much in com­mon, but so much more we can do.”

He spoke be­fore more than 100 peo­ple gath­ered at Ebenezer Bap­tist Church on Wylie Av­enue in the Hill Dis­trict just af­ter 5 p.m. Sun­day, fol­low­ing a beau­ti­ful and up­lift­ing ren­di­tion of “Amaz­ing Grace.”

Rabbi My­ers talked about his dream of equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for ev­ery­one — from hous­ing, to ed­u­ca­tion, to health care, to em­ploy­ment. And for ev­ery­one, re­gard­less of gen­der, sex­ual pref­er­ence or re­li­gion.

He then turned to the Oct. 27 at­tack at his sy­n­a­gogue — a mas­sacre that killed 11 peo­ple gath­ered for Sab­bath wor­ship on a Satur­day morn­ing in Squir­rel Hill. The vic­tims in­cluded mem­bers of two other con­gre­ga­tions that use the Tree of Life sy­n­a­gogue fa­cil­i­ties — Con­gre­ga­tion Dor Hadash and New Light Con­gre­ga­tion.

Rabbi My­ers said he will no longer talk about hate. In­stead, he

called it an ob­scen­ity.

“I refuse to use that word any­more,” he said.

He said he will not al­low hate to drive him from his home.

“In Pitts­burgh, we build bridges to con­nect peo­ple, be­cause that’s who we are,” Rabbi My­ers said. “There are those who wish to di­vide us. Our ab­hor­rence for this unites us.

“It’s no longer about words. It’s about do­ing some­thing about it. To do any­thing less in­sults the 11 beau­ti­ful souls who were slaugh­tered in my sy­n­a­gogue, and I will never, I repeat, never, al­low that to hap­pen.”

When asked how his con­gre­ga­tion is do­ing af­ter more than 100 days since the at­tack, Rabbi My­ers said, “We take it an hour at a time be­cause ev­ery­body is in a dif­fer­ent place si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

“You can’t say one size fits all. There’s still an im­mense amount of heal­ing. It’s not bricks and mor­tar. It’s heal­ing of peo­ple’s hearts and souls.”

Judge Dwayne Woodruff, the chair of Ur­ban League’s board, praised Rabbi My­ers’ mes­sage.

“I think the peo­ple want to hear from him,” he said. “There’s still love. There’s still peo­ple com­ing to­gether.

“In this coun­try, we need that now.”

Fol­low­ing Rabbi My­ers’ speech, he was pre­sented with a stain­less steel sculp­ture — a Star of David sur­round­ing a Tree of Life, with the names of the 11 vic­tims en­graved on it.

It was de­signed by Ge­orge Lamp­man, who lives in Ed­in­boro, but has been stay­ing with his daugh­ter in Mt. Le­banon for the past three years as he re­ceives treat­ment at the UPMC Hill­man Can­cer Cen­ter.

Mr. Lamp­man, 73, al­ready had an­other piece of art at the Tree of Life sy­n­a­gogue be­fore the at­tack.

When he heard about the shoot­ing, he said, he knew that piece wasn’t enough.

“I needed some­thing dif­fer­ent,” he said.

Mr. Lamp­man plans to have the same piece made for each vic­tim’s fam­ily.

Ms. Bush, the pres­i­dent and CEO of Ur­ban League of Greater Pitts­burgh for the past 25 years, noted that this year’s mes­sage is “Getting to Equal: United Not Divided.”

“We are truly not well as a peo­ple when we are not united,” she said. “The cure to dis­crim­i­na­tion is in­te­gra­tion. The more we get to know one an­other, the more we en­joy one an­other.”

She en­cour­aged those gath­ered to cel­e­brate their dif­fer­ences and help oth­ers to ac­cept them.

“The to­mor­row we long for is not just go­ing to ar­rive,” Ms. Bush said. “Let us live the world we en­vi­sioned.”

Jessie War­darski/Post-Gazette pho­tos

Sa­mual Rus­sell of Wilkins­burg, left, sits next to his wife, Car­lotta Black, as she raises a hand to the sky dur­ing a hymn played by the Dr. Al­ton Mer­rell & Im­pact band dur­ing the 33rd an­nual Ur­ban League Sun­day event

Faith Otey-Emanuel of the North Side, left, sings “Amaz­ing Grace” with Nikki Porter of Penn Hills as Rabbi Jef­frey My­ers, cen­ter, watches dur­ing the Ur­ban League event at Ebenezer Bap­tist Church in the Hill Dis­trict.

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