From the impassioned words of a Baptist pastor to the resilient tone of rabbis, faith leaders of Madison called Sunday for the rejection of hate and intolerance and an embrace of love and unity a day after authorities say a gunman entered a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 people.
A packed auditorium of hundreds of people from various faiths gathered at First Unitarian Society in Shorewood Hills to mourn the deaths of those in Pittsburgh and to express support for Madison’s Jewish community.
“Anti-Semitism is rising in the United States, and white supremacy is the greatest threat to Jewish safety in this country. It is tempting to shut our doors, to turn away,” said Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim. “We must step across racial, ethnic and religious lines in a real way, in a way that matters. We must fight real and persistent racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.”
Authorities say Robert Gregory Bowers walked into Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue during worship services Saturday and opened fire with an AR-15 rifle and other weapons, killing eight men and three women, and injuring six others, including four police officers.
He expressed hatred of Jews during the rampage and later told police that “all these Jews need to die,” authorities said.
Everett Mitchell, a Dane County Circuit Court judge and pastor at Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church, recalled the support he received from Jewish friends when nine African-Americans were killed in a South Carolina church in 2015.
“We believe in our faith that the enemy will not have the final say so. And in fact, God has the final say so, and if God is love then love will triumph, but it will be up to us to make sure they stop using these dog-whistle politics to make us afraid of one another,” Mitchell said to a round of applause.
In between speeches, those in attendance sang songs and recited the Mourner’s Kaddish, a Jewish prayer of mourning.
Masood Akhtar, a prominent member of the Madison Muslim community and founder of the We Are Many—United Against Hate nonprofit organization, said Bowers should be called a terrorist and treated as such in court.
“We condemn this heinous and cowardly attack that took place at the worship in Pittsburgh,” Akhtar said. “We all stand together in solidarity with you and the entire Jewish community during these tough times.”
The ceremony was put on by Jewish Social Services of Madison, Beth Israel Center, Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, Temple Beth El, UW Hillel, Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice and the Jewish Federation of Madison.
The Rev. Alex Gee, senior pastor of Fountain of Life Covenant Church, said while exploring his genealogy he discovered it was the stories of Jewish slaves in Egypt that showed his ancestors in bondage in the United States that freedom could be attained.
“We’ve watched your faith for millennia, and this is not enough to take you out,” Gee said. “You’ve suffered more and uglier, and you’ve bounced back stronger and better.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
[Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction. An earlier version omitted the name of one of the organizers of Sunday's interfaith ceremony, Jewish Social Services of Madison.]