Chicago faith communities mourn with Pittsburgh, stand up to hate

A standing-room only crowd of 1,800 Chicagoans of all faiths came together on Nov. 1 in response to the Shabbat massacre at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life*Or L'Simcha Congregation.

Pittsburgh Gathering image
Ida Crown Jewish Academy students read the names of those killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

A standing-room only crowd of 1,800 Chicagoans of all faiths came together in response to the Shabbat massacre at the Pittsburgh's Tree of Life*Or L'Simcha Congregation, drawing strength and healing from one another and honoring the 11 lives lost and eight injured in the attack.

JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council sponsored the Nov. 1 gathering, held at the Swissôtel  Chicago, where leaders of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faith communities -- along with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel -- spoke to a rapt lunchtime crowd. (Watch the full video)

Those in attendance included local elected officials at every level of government, along with students from Chicago Jewish Day School and Ida Crown Jewish Academy. An additional 1,800 community members live-streamed the event on Facebook.

In his remarks, JUF President Dr. Steven B. Nasatir recounted a series of recent hate-fueled attacks, asking, "How many times must we gather in solidarity, in protest, to mourn? Do the horrors never end?" He decried how "our nation has slid backward when it comes to anti-Semitism and other hatreds...toxic strains of this old disease.

"We gather as people of goodwill from all faith communities to raise our voices," Nasatir said. "No more silence in the face of hate! We will not indulge or ignore those sowing seeds of division."

Cardinal Blase Cupich of the Chicago Archdiocese said that he shared "deep sorrow" with his "Jewish brothers and sisters in faith. "We grieve, weep, and pray with you. A line has been crossed," he said.

"We must name the evil of anti-Semitism," Cupich continued. "It is an affront to dignity and a threat to peace. No one should live in fear. We must never demean or devalue those deemed different."

Sheikh Hassan Aly of Willowbrook's Mecca Center promised to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the Jewish community for the safety of all houses of worship, saying: "We stand with all who seek to practice faith in peace. There is no place for hate in our country. Respect, mercy, and love are what we need today."

He then related the Jewish concept that saving a life is like saving a world to a similar passage in the Quran, concluding, "We are with you. Your pain is my pain."

JCRC Chair Bill Silverstein, who moderated the gathering, expressed gratitude to the American Muslim community, which raised over $200,000 to help defray the funeral costs of those killed.

Mayor Emanuel spoke about the recent pattern of attacks on worshippers of different faiths. He noted that HIAS -- the Jewish agency that settles refugees and which was singled out in the Pittsburgh's gunman's rants against the Jewish people -- had helped the families of many in the room. "To be Jewish," he said, "is to extend a hand to other refugees," he said. He added that he himself is a descendant of immigrants.

"Hatred grows only in silence," Emanuel cautioned. "We must confront it with love, compassion, and opportunity." He urged the audience to "find our common humanity… our moral center."   

Rabbi Wendi Geffen of North Shore Congregation Israel lamented that the killer had "breached the walls of a Jewish sacred space and time" with a Shabbat attack on a synagogue. "Words matter," she said, and when words are cruel, "violence always follows."

Lonnie Nasatir, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, shared compelling data about the rising tide of anti-Semitism; in 2017, the ADL recorded a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents nationwide, and a 103 percent increase in the Midwest . 

Rev. Dr. Myron McCoy of the First United Methodist Church at The Chicago Temple, recounted a legend of Roman warriors who, losing their bearings in a time when the world was largely unknown, said they had "marched off the map." Today, we too are in uncharted territory, McCoy said. "We have lost trust in our institutions ... we are closer to chaos than community."

In such straits, McCoy concluded, we must remember Psalm 23, in which King David writes that he survived even the shadow of death because God was with him. He called upon God "to unite us all, no matter how we pray."

Rabbi Leonard Matanky, dean of the Ida Crown Jewish Academy, led a reading of the 23rd Psalm and his students read the names and shared poignant information about each of the 11 people killed.

Cantor Alberto Mizrahi of Anshe Emet Synagogue led prayers for the healing of the wounded and in memory of the fallen.

One person in attendance at the solidarity gathering was retired judge and Holocaust survivor Milt Black, who immigrated to the United States when he was young.  He stressed the importance of people of all faiths "not allowing evil to stop us from living our good lives.

"I've had wonderful non-Jewish people -- I call them 'Righteous Gentiles' like the ones in Yad Vashem -- contact me [since the shooting], and this is what I tell them: "We will prevail so long as we remember that there is more good that binds us together than bad that drives us apart," Black said.

"Remember the lesson taught to us by Abraham and Moses," Silverstein said. "When God called upon them, they answered, 'Hineini, here I am.' In our fight against anti-Semitism and hatred in all of its forms … I implore all of us to call out: 'Hineini, here I am.'" 

JUF has sent an initial grant of $25,000 to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh's Victims of Terror Fund earmarked for the wide variety of personal and communal needs arising from this tragedy. Donations can be made to The Jewish Federation Pittsburgh Solidarity Fund at

This Shabbat, North American Jewish communities across the denominations will observe a Solidarity Shabbat, organized by the Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. For a listing of Chicago area synagogues, visit . Young adults are invited to participate in a Shabbat dinner through OneTable; for listings, visit .

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