Heartbreak & Healing: Multi-faith Effort to Rebuild Sacred Spaces

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Dear Hevre, Seven predominantly Black churches have been burned to the ground by arsonists. As Jews, we must not stand idly by while sacred spaces are destroyed by hatred,  while human dignity is deniedby violence. These churches need our support to rebuild and be healed. Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal) in St. Louis is coordinating the Rebuild the Churches Fund, an interfaith effort to unite people of all faiths in standing with their sisters and brothers to help rebuild these buildings -- which are not just houses of worship but centers of ministry for their communities. They are asking all of us to respond to the racist terrorism targeting Black Americans with acts of love.

In this week's parashah, we will read Balaam's blessing of the Jewish people that adorns so many of our synagogues: “Mah tovu ohalekha Ya'akov, mishk'notekha Yisrael!”(“How lovely are your tents, Oh Jacob, your dwelling places, Oh Israel!”) As Jews, we know all too well what it means to have our most holy places become targets of hatred and violence. We must support our Black neighbors and friends not just with solidarity but with tangible support.

Please donate now to the Rebuild the Churches Fund!

Rabbi Shawn Zevit

Rabbi Shawn participated in a group call of white faith leaders against the burning of Black churches, organized by Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), and shares these action steps generated by the call:


Last week's letter:

Dear Hevre,

Praying for the souls of Pastor Pinckney and the eight other African Americans murdered in their spiritual home, for their families and the devastated members of the AME church in Charleston; and the other Black Churches that have been targeted with racially motivated acts since then.

How much longer and how many more lives?

My co-chair of the clergy caucus of POWER, Reverend Mark Tyler, continues to attend to his community -- the historic Mother Bethel AME church, here in Philadelphia -- as well as reaching out to those in Charleston, and the AME church community at large, and dealing with his own grief losing one of his colleagues and friends. Rev. Tyler writes: “Thank you for all the prayers, texts, emails, etc. in response to the horrific events at Mother Emanuel AME. Pastor Pinckney, who lost his life, was a friend. Your continued prayers are appreciated.”

We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across this country and the globe at this time; with our prayers and actions of comfort and our commitment to raising our voices and standing for racial and social justice. May there be comfort amid the heartbreak and anger, and organized action for change that shatters the status quo.

Rabbi Shawn Zevit

Media Coverage:

CBS NewsLocal Religious Leaders Shocked, Saddened By Charleston Church Shooting


NBC News: Faithful Pray, Stand United After SC Church Massacre


ABC News: Hundreds Gather at Mother Bethel AME Church to Remember Charleston Victims


             [Photo Credit/NBC News): Rev. Mark Tyler and Rabbi Shawn Zevit]

Rabbi Shawn also shared the following:


Why Recognizing The Charleston Church Shooting As An Act of Racially Motivated Terrorism Is Only The First Step (Huffington Post blog, BlackVoices)

Exerpts from a letter of Rabbi Stephanie Alexander of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, a synagogue in Charleston, to her community (shared by Mishkan Board Member Janelle McCoy):

Dear KKBE Family,

Our hearts are broken and our souls are both grieving and scared….

As many of you know, my family has been on a bus trip with three Charleston churches on a tour of civil rights sites in the South. We had recently -- and poignantly, as it would happen -- toured the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, and were driving through Alabama when we heard the news of the shooting….

Reverend Clementa Pinckney was a very special colleague in the interfaith community….No matter the setting, his message was always inspirational, and the eloquence and beauty of his voice was nothing less than an instrument of peace itself….His leadership and his sweet soul will be sorely missed. 

Our hearts go out to the families, friends and loved ones of all whose lives have been left with gaping holes. Our thoughts are with every member of Emanuel AME church whose foundation has been shaken. And our prayers encompass all of us in this devastated city who now turn to one another and the Source of Peace for strength, comfort and healing.

Rabbi Shawn shared, from Israel:

Last night the historic Church of the Multiplication on the Kinneret was vandalised and set on…fire. The fire damaged a storage room and church offices; graffiti found on site read 'false idols will be smashed.' Since December 2009 over 43 churches, mosques and monasteries have been torched or desecrated in Israel and the West Bank. Not one person has ever been prosecuted!

Words from Rabbi Marc Gopin in Israel: "Repentance and penance must follow in the form of building and rebuilding more, not only for true spiritual awakening, not only for defiance but as a tactic of defeat and victory. There is a world of outcomes here that ethics and spirit demand that the majority seizes for itself, the ethical demand to seize the future, to take back the future for the righteous majority from the hateful few. There is a way to defeat hate with love, but it must entail not only solidarity but defeat of the goals of the original hate, which is elimination of the other. The majority in all societies must not only be contrite about the darkness within them they must defeat it with love that is victorious."

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Rabbi Shawn, Reverend Tyler and POWER:

In this Philadelphia Inquirer photo, Rev. Mark Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church, holds the megaphone for Rabbi Shawn while he addresses the POWER/MLK D.A.R.E. coalition rally April 4, 2015 (CHRIS FASCENELLI/Staff Photographer).

Rabbi Shawn and Rev. Tyler are co-chairs of the POWER Clergy Caucus. Along with fellow Caucus members, they were interviewed in these recent articles:

Local Jews Join "Philly is Baltimore" Rally at City Hall                       (Jewish Exponent)

Pastor Praises Arrests of Six Baltimore Officers But Says Much Work Remains to be Done to End Police Brutality (Philadelphia City Paper/The Naked City Blog)

To learn more about Mishkan Shalom's work with issues of racial and social justice, please visit our POWER and New Jim Crow Study/Action Group and Tikkun Olam web pages.

To paraphrase Rabbi Alexander, may our voices rise and become instruments of peace.

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