Jewish Organizations Show Solidarity With Charleston Church

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Jewish organizations from around the country are doing whatever they can to help the grieving and healing process.

After nine people were killed by 21-year-old gunman Dylann Roof during a prayer study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, many, including those in the local Jewish community in Charleston, S.C., reached out to comfort and support their neighbors — and to publicly denounce the act as a hate crime against the African-American community.
 
Rabbi Stephanie Alexander, of Congregation Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim in Charleston, was on a bus tour through the South with members of three area churches when they heard about the tragedy. They had just been to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, which made the news even more “surreal,” she said. Alexander and two other members of the clergy immediately flew back to Charleston so they could attend prayer vigils there.
 
“Inside was packed to capacity, it was overflow crowd onto the street outside,” she said. “We could hear the singing outside as we listened to the speakers inside. It was a really diverse group of Charleston­ians who came to show support and draw strength and healing as well.”
Emanuel AME “lost their pastor — their leader and guide and spiritual center,” said Alexander. “At the moment, the most important thing we can do is be the visual Jewish presence for the community as we all gather together as one.”
 
Prayer vigils and gatherings have been happening throughout the city and the country since the shootings.
 
“This is just the beginning, because the huge loss isn’t going to disappear with the media coverage,” said Judi Corsaro, CEO of the Charleston Jewish Federation. She said for the long term, her organization plans to implement the curriculum from the Remember Program for Holocaust Education and Genocidal Awareness at area middle and high schools. 
 
“There’s work that needs to be done with tolerance, and an integral part is reaching out to the community and using the lessons of the Holocaust to promote tolerance and acceptance of diversity,” she said. The 
Federation has set up a donation link on their site.
 
But, Corsaro said, “For greater Charleston, this is a wake-up call. When something like this happens, we have to be more aware.”  
 
National Jewish groups came out in support as well. The Simon Wiesenthal Center in New York expressed “solidarity with and deep sorrow” for the congregants in Charleston. The Washington, D.C.-based Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism said in a statement, “Houses of worship are places of safety, comfort and inspiration. For the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to have become last night a place of such horror, tears at the heart of every person of faith and goodwill.”
 
Here in Philadelphia, the Jewish response to the tragedy was expressed throughout the community in statements like the one made by Adam Kessler and Dan Segal, the director and chair, respectively, of the Jewish Community Relations Council. The pair stated they were “sickened by this disregard for life in what looks to be a blatant, racially motivated attack on the African American community in Charleston.” 
 
They also expressed they would “continue to work with the interfaith community as we strive together to build a more compassionate, tolerant and welcoming world” — borne out by the fact that JCRC had already scheduled a symposium on “Black Lives Matter” for June 25 before the shooting occurred.  
 
Jacobo Mintzer, president of Synagogue Emanu-el in Charleston, said in a written statement, “Today, we are all members of the Emanuel AME Church of Charleston.”
 
“The hateful actions that took place last night at Emanuel AME Church are a horrendous tragedy that is being felt throughout the Charleston community. Jointly, with other members of the Jewish community, Synagogue Emanu-El strongly condemns these criminal and hateful acts,” he said.
The mayor’s office will hold an interfaith service organized in the 5,100-seat TD Arena at the College of Charleston on Friday.
 
Synagogue Emanu-El is “about five or six blocks from Emanuel” church, and just a few blocks more to the arena, said Alexander. “And even though this program is running through Shabbat, we’re invoking Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel,” a rabbi who walked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement.
 
Heschel was questioned why he chose to walk instead of staying home to lead and pray with his own community. He answered he was “praying with my legs,” said Alexander, which she will invite her congregants — about 520 households — to do on Friday. The participants will light Shabbat candles at the synagogue then walk to the interfaith service together. Her congregants also offered their space to the church as a place to hold their services on Sunday.
 
“I’m hopeful the Jewish community will be a real visible presence,” she said, “which will be meaning for us and powerful for the community as whole.” 
 

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