By Sharon Wisch-Ray
Approximately 1,100 people attended a communitywide prayer service Nov. 1, at Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Fort Worth. “A Jewish Communal and City-Wide Night of Prayer, Remembrance and Unity” was framed around “the message of unity, healing and coming together,” explained Rabbi Andrew Bloom.
The sanctuary and social hall of the synagogue were virtually silent throughout the program, which lasted a little more than an hour.
Every Abrahamic faith community was represented — Christians, Muslims and Jews — as well as leaders of the Jewish community. (See box on p. 23 for the full list of participants and their readings.) Bloom carefully curated the program to focus on prayer and healing.
Some highlights of the evening were:
“First and foremost, I welcome those who have come in the name of God and the name of unity. It’s not only very special that we come together as a community but it’s special that we come together as a community of faith and a community of dedicated citizens,” Bloom said.
“Behind me to my left, to your right, is a very important and sacred Torah. It is a Torah that survived from the Holocaust and it is no longer kosher. We can’t use it, we can’t read from it because it is torn and letters are missing. But we as a community here at Congregation Ahavath Sholom, we take it out at all occasions so that those who were murdered during the Holocaust, their memories will be eternal as the letters of the five books of Moses are eternal.
“Tonight, we take it out not only for those who died and were murdered in the Holocaust, but we take it out for the 11 of Pittsburgh. We take it out for them to let them and their families and the entire congregation in Pittsburgh know that we are one, that we not only stand with them, but they are in our hearts and in our minds.
“And next to that, we have a tallit; the tallit has the 613 fringes, which represent the 613 mitzvot. It has four longer fringes that we put together when we say the eternal words ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.’ We hold them as one to show how unified we are. Tonight each and every one of us are one of those fringes, and we hold it together.
“May God bless each and every one of you for coming out this evening. This evening, we are gathered here as one united community who stands up and says never again, never again to hate, violence and the rhetoric of division that surrounds us in all corners or our community our country and our universe. We come together to say yes, yes to fellowship and friendship yes to respect and reverence, and seeing each person as created in God’s image. We also come together to pray for healing. Healing for those who are physically wounded, and healing for those who emotionally — like all of us who are suffering with doubts — are suffering.”
Brian Byrd, Fort Worth City Councilman District 3
“From the city of Fort Worth to the city of Pittsburgh, by being here en masse and in force tonight, we are saying to the community in that city, we stand with you, we believe in you and we wish you comfort and we pray for you,” Byrd said.
“On behalf of the city of Fort Worth, as I represent the mayor and the other council members here, may the God of peace bring peace to you. May the God of healing bring comfort to those in Pittsburgh who lost their lives in Pittsburgh and their family. May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm protect every Jewish community and house of faith all over the world.”
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price’s letter, as read by Byrd
“We can’t change the past or restore the lives of those so tragically lost. However, we can certainly shape the future for the benefit of both current and future generations. I believe we do this by choosing compassion over hostility and this is not always easy. But I pray that we choose to reject the natural feelings of anger and resentment and instead stand together as a beacon of light in darkness. No matter our beliefs, our politics our ethnicity or other differences, we are all humans created to live in harmony together. Let’s use our power for good. Each of us can take bold action to spread the kind of compassion, humility and forgiveness that will always overcome those things that divide us. Compassion takes many forms, but what matters is that we all get involved and engaged.”
Fort Worth Assistant Chief of Police Edwin Kraus
After reading a law-enforcement prayer, Kraus said, “Faith is the opposite of fear…Faith in that same God will get us through this. It gets us through all the incidents similar to this when we say, what are we supposed to do now? I’m proud to be a man of faith among people of faith and that faith will get us through.”
Pastor George Pearsons,
Eagle Mountain Church
“Tonight, all of our hearts are reaching out to the Tree of Life synagogue congregation. To that congregation, whether you’re a pastor or rabbi, your congregation is very important to you and things that happen to them touch your heart deeply. And when this took place, I felt like it was my own congregation that was attacked. And we prayed for the families, we prayed for the congregation, we prayed for the community and for everyone that has been involved in this attack.
“Our own church congregation, the ministry part of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, we love our Jewish friends and wholeheartedly support the state of Israel. And you know, it’s interesting, someone might ask, ‘Why do you support Israel? Why do you love the Jewish people so much?’ And there are so many different reasons that I can share with you tonight. But just one, and it’s from the scriptures, Zacharia 2-8. ‘He who touches you touches the apple of His eye.’
“We have made as a church and a ministry, we have made the apple of His eye, the apple of our eye. We love our Jewish friends, and we love the Tree of Life congregation.”
Bloom’s message of unity
“What is the most basic part of a tree? It’s the roots. Each and every one of us should be a root of morality. Because if we are a root of morality, then the winds of hate will never blow our tree, never knock it down. But matter of fact, if we come together as the roots of peace of the roots of shalom, then the roots will spread out larger, our tree will become stronger and it will be a tree of life that all of us together grasp onto.
“In quoting President Lyndon B. Johnson, ‘Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.’ We must come together in order to win the future. For tonight, we not only come here to mourn, as we of course do, we not only come here to pray, which we of course do, but we come here to ask how can we plan for the future, how can we win the hearts of each other today in order to bridge the gap and deepen the roots for tomorrow.”
“When I looked at the program, I saw that ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble…’ [referring to the line from Psalm 46 at the top of the program]. And I say to this evening, that is where our friends in Pittsburgh are getting their strength, because we have to draw on that in times of trouble.”
Rev. Bruce Datcher, Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church
“United we Stand, Divided we Fall. Let us resolve here together this evening that we will feed and nourish each other as one united community.”
A few days after the prayer service, Bloom stressed the importance of keeping the conversation going.
“We take the message of unity, of morality, and we keep the conversation in those meetings going on. I think both the city, the churches and the Muslim community want to keep the conversation going. We want to make sure we remain tight.”