In the days after a gunman shot and killed 11 people gathered for a baby naming ceremony at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Oct. 27, a sign was left on Rabbi Alan Alpert’s car. It read: “Muskegon loves our Jewish neighbors” and “stronger than hate.”
There were flowers, too—lots of them—left at Temple B’nai Israel in downtown Muskegon. And words from friends and strangers alike: people wanted their Jewish neighbors to know this hate will be extinguished. That this attack was an attack on us all, and we will not be silent about it. That we will remember the victims. That we will continue to say their names.
We will say: we see the anti-Semitism in our world, and we will speak up against it. And against it. And against it. Until, eventually, it is our humanity, not hate, that fills our world. Until everyone can go to their houses of worship—to their synagogues and mosques and Sikh temples and churches—and know they are safe.
It was these messages—these words that surface from a deep well of love and strength and humanity—that reverberated throughout the “Gathering of Healing and Solidarity” event organized by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Muskegon Community College (MCC) on the evening of Monday, Nov. 5. Held at MCC’s Sturrus Center, the gathering drew a standing-room-only crowd to the event that remembered those killed in acts of hate in Pittsburgh and throughout the United States.
“When the wolves of hate are loosed on one people, then no one is safe,” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Pastor and Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies Chairman Chris Anderson said, reading from a recent Washington Post article that quoted an editorial published in the aftermath of the 1958 bombing of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple in Atlanta, Georgia.
“When hate speech, firing up the airwaves and popping at the rallies, suddenly tears apart—with homemade bombs or assault rifles—the everyday lives of ordinary people, the results are not cinematic or larger-than-life,” Anderson read from Melissa Fay Greene’s stunningly powerful essay about the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. “The results are exactly life-size.”
This shooting took the lives of the men and women described as the heart of the Tree of Life Synagogue: a doctor who cared for Pittsburgh’s HIV/AIDS patients when no one else would. A husband and wife who died in the same synagogue where they married more than 60 years ago. Two brothers who were inseparable. The oldest victim was 97, the youngest 54.
Their names are: Joyce Fienberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; Cecil Rosenthal, 59; David Rosenthal, 54; Bernice Simon, 84; Sylvan Simon, 86; Daniel Stein, 71; Melvin Wax, 88; and Irving Younger, 69.
During Monday’s gathering, these names were read aloud, in addition to 24 other names—all people murdered in acts of hate throughout the United States. There were the six people who died when a gunman shot them in a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on Aug. 5, 2012. The nine people killed after a gunman shot them at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The man and woman who died Oct. 24 when a gunman shot them in Jeffersonville, Kentucky. The entire list of people remembered during Monday’s service is published at the end of this article.
“What we are here to do is to remember individuals who lived ordinary lives, to remember them one person at a time,” Anderson said.
Religious and community leaders from throughout Muskegon and West Michigan spoke during the MCC event, and, in trying to find comfort in a time of darkness, people turned to words that have been said many times before us: by Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank, and the Jerusalem Talmud, the Koran, and the Bible, among others.
“Whoever kills an innocent person, it is as though he has killed all of humanity,” Zahabia Ahmed-Usmani, of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, said, quoting the Quran.
For Ahmed-Usmani, and many of those at Monday’s gathering, there was a focus on our own humanity, on the truly transformative power of love.
“I saw a documentary about the Oak Creek massacre (which you can watch here), and in that documentary we learned about the experience of the Sikh community when this atrocity happened,” she said. “In that documentary, we heard from a former neo-Nazi skinhead, and he shared his message with us. He said you couldn’t beat the heat out of him. He said, ‘I hated myself; I loathed myself; I loathed everyone. And there wasn’t anything anyone could do to get that hate out of me. The only thing that changed me was unconditional love.'”
“I encourage you to think about that in your relationships,” Ahmed-Usmani continued. “I encourage you to think about the Jewish doctors and Jewish medical staff who responded to the [Pittsburgh] shooter. I encourage you to think about the Sikh community in Oak Creek. When the greater community got together and told them they raised the money for six coffins, the Sikh community said, ‘thank you very much, but we need seven,’ because they wanted to have one for the shooter.”
Monday’s speakers encouraged the community to condemn all forms of hatred and bigotry.
“At a time when hate and hostility seem to be spreading, Edmund Burke’s words, ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing,’ move us to step forward,” said Brianna Scott, the chairperson of the Muskegon Rotary Club’s Diversion and Inclusion Committee. “We realize that silence appears to be acceptance, and we also recognize that we can and must stand against those who seek to tear down our community through hatred and bigotry. We do not accept hate, and we will not be silent.”
After this outpouring of support from the community, Rabbi Alpert expressed his gratitude and emphasized that this strength and love emanating from those around him is something deeply rooted within the city he loves: Muskegon.
“One thing that makes it very special to be in Muskegon is all of you,” he told the crowd before him. “When we are discouraged, when we say hate is running amok, take a look at each and everyone who’s here. This community is not perfect, but it does so much to try to be a blessing to all.”
Of the many ideas that resonated throughout Monday night, it is perhaps this one to which the audience most fervently clung: We struggle and fall and fail; we can feel defeated or overwhelmed by anger and sadness at a most imperfect world, but we keep linking arms with neighbors. We keep joining in song with one another (as happened during Monday’s event, which you can see above). We keep speaking out against hatred. We keep saying, “Muskegon loves our Jewish neighbors.”
We are stronger than hate.
Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if one destroyed the entire world. Whoever saves a soul, it is considered as if one saved the entire world. —Jerusalem Talmud
See more photos of Monday’s gathering below. To see a larger version of the picture and to start the photo slideshow, please click any of the images below.
Those remembered during the Gathering of Healing and Solidarity include:
Jeffersonville, Kentucky: Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones
Portland Oregon: Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche
New York: Timothy Caughman
Olathe, Kansas: Srinivas Kuchibhotla
Tulsa, Oklahoma: Khalid Jabara
Charleston, South Carolina, Emanuel AME Church: Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, and Susie Jackson.
Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Sikh Temple: Paramjit Kaur, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Prakash Singh, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, and Suveg Singh.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tree of Life Synagogue: Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Sylvan Simon, Bernice Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger.