Christian, Muslim leaders join Jewish congregation for Sabbath celebration, pledging to fight hatred with unity

WEST BLOOMFIELD — With wounds still fresh six days after a horrific mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue claimed the lives of 11 Jewish men and women, local faith leaders gathered Nov. 3 at Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield to pray for peace and healing and to fight religious violence.

Jewish, Muslim and Christian clergy joined hundreds of local Jews gathered at the synagogue for a "Shabbat of Solidarity," organized at the invitation of Rabbi Michael Moskowitz. 

Rabbi Moskowitz said the attack had left many Jews gathering across the country for Sabbath services feeling frightened after the "holiness of this day was shattered" by a "hate-spewing anti-Semite" Oct. 28, when a gunman opened fire on a congregation gathered for a baby-naming ceremony. 

Besides the 11 who perished in the attack, six others were injured, including four police officers.

"We honor those souls murdered by being here together as a community, by praying together, by celebrating life together," Rabbi Moskowitz said. "But today at Temple Shir Shalom, we’re also reminded that we are not alone.

Jews and Christians pray for peace Nov. 3 during a Sabbath service at Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield.

"Last Saturday afternoon, I felt very alone," Rabbi Moskowitz continued. "For so many of us, this is a country that welcomed our parents or grandparents. We protect and honor diversity in our country. We honor our different religions and traditions, and as a Jew, a minority in America, the rug was ripped out from under us." 

Yet, as the afternoon wore on, Rabbi Moskowitz said, calls, texts and emails began flooding in from religious leaders across southeast Michigan. 

"'Rabbi, I’m here with you.' 'Rabbi, our community has you and your congregation in our prayers.' 'This attack is an attack on us, not just on you,'" Rabbi Moskowitz said, quoting the calls he received. "Those messages came from these leaders sitting on our bimah this morning. Your presence today means the world to us."

One of the first leaders to call and offer his support, Rabbi Moskowitz said, was Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, who spoke to the congregation to give words of consolation.

"I stand here as a representative of your neighbors of all the faith congregations that make up our community," Archbishop Vigneron said. "On behalf of us all I offer heartfelt condolences in this time of grief for the Jewish community. We feel your loss, and stand with you to confront hatred, and to defend against violence and aggression."

The archbishop opened his remarks with a prayer given by St. John Paul II when he visited the Western Wall of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 2000, who prayed for harmony and peace among religions, given the long history of suffering and violence endured by the Jewish people.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron addresses the Jewish congregation at Temple Shir Shalom on Nov. 3. The archbishop joined Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders in praying for an end to religious violence and hatred and for healing for the families of the Pittsburgh shooting victims.

"All Sabbath prayer is especially sacred, but it is particularly so today, when we are gathered to tell God of our sorrows and fears and anger and hopes in these days following the violence during the Shabbat services at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh," Archbishop Vigneron said.

The archbishop continued by praying for God's comfort, protection and healing of the Jewish people in the wake of the tragedy, and by calling for all non-Jews to "resolve to condemn and root out all forms of anti-Semitism, every trace of hatred for Jews because they are Jews."

"We, neighbors and friends of our Jewish brothers and sisters, share their anguish and join them in lifting it up to your sight, for you, Lord God, are always kind and loving to your children," Archbishop Vigneron said. "You are ready to hear their lament, our lament, and quick to answer with a father’s compassion."

Joining the archbishop in praying for peace was Imam Al-Qazwini of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn; Pastor Bruce Burwell of the Light of the World Christian Center in West Bloomfield; and Msgr. Robert McClory, rector and pastor of the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak.

Msgr. John Kasza and David Conrad, ecumenical and interfaith representatives of the Archdiocese of Detroit, were also in attendance. 

Imam Al-Qazwini said the local Muslim community is likewise saddened and outraged at the attack that took place in Pittsburgh, adding, "your injuries are our injuries, and your wounds are our wounds."  

"Attacking any house of worship is an attack to all other religions," Imam Al-Qazwini said. "Attacking the Jews is an attack on Muslims and Christians and Hindus and all other faithful."

Jews touch their prayer books to the scrolls of the Torah during a ceremony as part of the Shabbat service Nov. 3.

“We need to stand together, and I came here to stand with you and to tell you that my Muslim community stands with you in this tragic time. The tragedy was so awful last week because it took place in a worship house, a place that is supposed to be preserved and respected. It’s a place where people seek serenity and comfort. They don’t go there to victims of violence and murder," the imam said.

While rebuilding a house of worship that gets destroyed is relatively easy, it is impossible to restore the lives of those lost to religious violence, he added. 

Differences in religious and political views will always exist, the imam said, "but this should not turn us into enemies with each other." 

“Christians, Jews and Muslims today are one family, and we stand together," Imam Al-Qazwini said. “We always need to stand united in good times and bad times. It is OK if we differ in our opinions, but it is not OK that we hate one another. We need to love one another, and I came to tell you that I love you all.”

Rabbi Moskowitz acknowledged each of the religious leaders before the congregation as "our friends," and as "individuals who understand what it means to support one another and be there for one another."

The rabbi then led the congregation in singing the Olam chesed yibaneh, a traditional Jewish hymn that means "the world is built on kindness."

"It’s a tradition we hold onto and something we teach and believe," Rabbi Moskowitz said. "It’s something we will affirm not just this morning, but God willing as we leave here and every day of our lives. We will be messengers of that."