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Mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh

Reflecting on the recent tragedy at a synagogue in Pittsburgh

If you are like me at this moment, you are feeling very frustrated, virtually helpless to prevent future tragedies such as what occurred to the innocent worshipers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. My sense-of-urgency meter is maxing out. I have been saying to myself, can’t I do more than just pray for peace? I ask myself, would all of the prayers for universal peace and justice being said all over the world prevent or discourage even one bigoted and deranged individual from his/her death-wish attack on one of our vulnerable populations?

I’m encouraged by the growing coalition of concerned people of good will who are coming together in response to the divisive political rhetoric of intolerance and scapegoating of recent years. Yet I am just as discouraged by the hard evidence of the dramatic rise in domestic terrorism and the spate of hate crimes of late, most of it directed at our African American, Jewish, and Muslim neighbors. These trends contribute to my feelings of despair and ineptitude. Again, this morning I asked myself, what can I–or even we as a community–do to overcome this state of what appears to be a human relations backlash.

Yet, as we have learned from having witnessed similar tragedies over the years, history tells us that once our immediate reactions of horror and grief have subsided, the sun re-emerges to shed light on humanity’s inherent goodness. That goodness is giving comfort and solidarity to victims and giving voice to the community’s overriding desire for inter-group harmony and justice. We are again reassured. Hope is restored.

As for the power of prayer: we need to acknowledge that praying or simply reflecting deeply in the manner of our choosing (whether in solitude or with others in community) has real value. It is impactful. It leads to social progress. For many, the act of praying reminds us that we are not alone in this endeavor to improve or “repair the world,” (or as our Jewish friends say,”tikkun olam”). Prayer inspires many believers to accept their responsibility to do their part in addressing the problems of our society. The opinion of many participants in the recent Cincinnati Festival of Faiths was that being compassionate means we are activists in service to and in defense of our neighbors of all types, including those of a different religious faith.

While prayer may not be the complete answer to solving our social problems, it provides the inspiration for many to take them on. The Bridges of Faith Trialogue, the sponsor of the Festival of Faiths, calls upon greater Cincinnatians and our faith community to come together in addressing the causes and prevention of religious bigotry and hate violence.

Robert C. “Chip” Harrod
Convener
Bridges of Faith Trialogue

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