Tree of Life rabbi pushes greater ties at Urban League event
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.”
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.