Rabbis Attend Bible Study at Church Massacre Site
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Rabbis Attend Bible Study at Church Massacre Site

A group of rabbis attended a bible study at the Mother Emanuel Church that suffered a shooting attack. They spoke with worshippers and sang.

Faith. Warmth. Hospitality. Courage. Strength.

These were my impressions of the wonderful people of Mother Emanuel AME Church who embraced us on our Nichum Aveilim (visiting the mourners) journey to Charleston.

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon July 1–I travelled with rabbis Etan Mintz and Avi Weiss–just two weeks after the horrible murder of nine bible studying innocent souls on Wednesday June 17.

Outside the church there was no longer a CNN camera. There was no longer a police presence. There were just some memorial flowers that visitors brought to mark the spot.

Elders of the church stood outside greeting their visitors. I shared with them a packet of letters written by teens from our Shul and they warmly accepted them. They asked me for my address so they could keep in touch.

We asked if we could attend the bible study that afternoon at 6 pm. It was the same bible study group at which the 9 were murdered. The said, “of course. Everyone is welcome.”

These simple words moved me a great deal. A murderer had taken advantage of their kindness and hospitality and brutally violated their sacred space but they had not changed one bit. They said everyone was welcome.

Indeed the presiding pastor made a point of saying that they had not canceled the weekly bible study as they did not want to change the way they lived.

As we walked into the social hall of the church we introduced ourselves as rabbis and we were uplifted to see that two other rabbis, a husband and wife rabbinic team, rabbis Meir and Tara Feldman of Temple Beth El of Great Neck were also present at the bible study.

At the beginning of the bible study the instructor Reverend Dr Lawrence Gordon warmly welcomed us and asked us to stand and introduce ourselves.

The session was devoted to “healing” and he said it would be “footnotes free.”

I soon realized that not only was this the same regularly scheduled bible study group but it was in be exact same space that the horrible murders took place. Indeed many relatives of the murdered were present and participating in the healing session–including the wife of Dr Clementa Pinckney.

Dr Gordon encouraged an interactive discussion and two themes of the session became the focus of conversation.

First: was it ok to be angry with God? Many were wondering if they were being unfaithful if they felt anger. A visiting AME pastor from Dayton said “it’s not anger, it’s questioning.”

Second: Dr Gordon said–“the enemy did not win. We have felt the love. There has been unity through tragedy.” At one point R Weiss shared his own story of unity with his friendship with a local Baptist Church. He taught the song “because of my brothers and sisters, I wish the best for you.” The entire room joined together in singing these words.

Dr Gordon made a point of finishing his healing session with the words: “in spite of June 17, our joy is still intact. Our hearts are saddened but our spirits rejoice.”

After the healing session we were then invited to take a picture with the pastors that were present. We were also embraced by family members of the murdered. I was given a beautiful pin by the sister of Myra Thompson who was murdered while leading the bible session on June 17.

I will keep it on the desk in my office as a reminder of the sacred souls who were killed by an evil man on June 17. But I will also keep it as a reminder of the powerful spirit of hospitality and warmth that was shown to us by the members of Mother Emanuel Church.

May we all live our faith as purely as members of this church. In these days of darkness may we all gain strength from each other. May we reunite again, not in sadness, but in joy.

Facebook posts during the visit:

“I am with Rabbis Avi Weiss and Etan Mintz in SC. We are here to attend the Open Bible study at Mother Emanuel Church (tonight) in the very same social hall that the horror unfolded two weeks ago.

Video here: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10153092579293717

“We asked the members of the church if we were welcome to attend the bible study at 6 pm. They said “of course. Everyone is welcome.” In the face of such evil and horror, their hospitality to the stranger is so inspiring

“The pastor spoke about harmony in the face of tragedy so Rabbi Weiss taught a song about harmony on the very spot where 9 were brutally murdered on June 17. Many relatives of the murdered embraced us movingly.”

– Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld

More Videos:

I am with Rabbis Avi Weiss and Etan Mintz in SC. We are here to attend the Open Bible study at Mother Emanuel Church (tonight) in the very same social hall that the horror unfolded two weeks ago.

Posted by Shmuel Herzfeld on Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Then we needed a minyan for Rabbi Weiss to say kaddish for his father so we went to the Chabad shaliach R Yossi Refson and he did a huge favor for us and drove us to the beach and with his help we made a minyan by finding people at the beach. Thanks Rabbi Yossi Refson you and your son Mendel and all your friends are amazing!

Posted by Shmuel Herzfeld on Wednesday, 1 July 2015

We asked the members of the church if we were welcome to attend the bible study at 6 pm. They said "of course. Everyone is welcome." In the face of such evil and horror, their hospitality to the stranger is so inspiring

Posted by Shmuel Herzfeld on Wednesday, 1 July 2015

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