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solidarity and healing after the Tree of Life shooting

October 31st, 2018 | 3 min read

By Matthew Loftus

My own connection to Pittsburgh is only through friends; my kids have played on the playground across the street from the Tree of Life synagogue several times. I wanted to share a few pieces about the incident, starting with this essay by Emma Green about the Jewish practices of ritual mourning:

The brief conversations at the beginning and end of each shift at the morgue were warm: about how wonderful Pittsburgh is, how unified the community is here. The shomrim shook their heads at what had happened and marveled at the support flowing to Pittsburgh, especially the pictures and videos sent from Israel. They talked about the rare unity across denominations in this Jewish community; most of the volunteers appeared to be Orthodox, but they felt strong solidarity with the liberal communities that were directly affected by the shooting. They love their community, they said. Everyone is nice here. Everyone gets along.

This was something they knew how to do. At least for an hour, whether in the afternoon or in the middle of the night, they did not have to sit at home and cry, or helplessly watch the country dissect their community’s loss on the news. The structure was there; the tradition told them what to do. Wait with the body until it can be buried. Pray over the murdered souls. You lay a table for me in view of my enemies, reads Psalm 23. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.

Next, Wesley Hill writes about the troubling use of John 8:44 by the murderer to justify his anti-Semitism:

But it is not simply my geographical and religious proximity to the Tree of Life synagogue (I can picture its interior and the faces of some of the congregants I met there) that makes me wonder about the horrifying potential of John 8:44, and other similar texts scattered throughout the New Testament (see, for another instance, 1 Thessalonians 2:14–16) to incite anti-Semitic violence. It is also my vocation as a teacher of the New Testament for future priests and other Christian ministers that causes me to wonder about it. And, perhaps most fundamentally, it is that I, a believing Christian myself, confess that verse and the rest of the New Testament to be inspired by God. What am I to do with the fact that a white supremacist found, or believed he found, in a document I consider to be divine speech, a mandate to take up an assault rifle and fire on a peaceful gathering of Jews in their house of worship?

Finally, I very much appreciated this reflection on healing and solidarity by Brandon McGinley:

That concept of solidarity returned to my mind again and again Saturday. I thought about the special (and not always salutary) relationship between Christians and Jews, and the duty in solidarity we have to them based on that special relationship — and based on our shared participation in the Imago Dei. But I also thought about how, perhaps more than anything else, our society suffers from a lack of solidarity, a deficiency of understanding that we share something valuable as Americans and as human beings, a lack of commitment to fulfilling the duties we have to one another not because we choose those duties but because they are implied in our dignity.

Solidarity, though, is more than warm feelings toward the marginalized and threatened. It is a virtue, and a virtue is a habit. The habit of solidarity begins not with sending thoughts or even resources to those distant from us, but in the hard work of healing our relationships with those closest to us. Solidarity begins when we welcome a struggling or frail or difficult friend into our homes, when we reconcile with an estranged family member, and when we perform specific acts of charity for specific people in our near orbits.

Matthew Loftus

Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at