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How Leaders From Different Congregations Came Together To Participate In Tree Of Life Remembrance Ceremony

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- When tragedy struck Tree of Life Synagogue three years ago, people around the country were surprised at how so many different faiths came together to support the victims, their families and all Jewish people.

But faith leaders here weren't surprised. In fact, the 10.27 Healing Partnership asked leaders of five different congregations from different faiths and communities to participate in the ceremony in Schenley Park on Wednesday.

commemoration faith leaders
(Photo Credit: KDKA)

KDKA's Kristine Sorensen sat down to talk with those five faith leaders about why and how they work together and what they hope their collaboration can mean for our community.

It started hours after the tragedy at Tree of Life happened. Houses of worship all around Squirrel Hill opened for people of all faiths to pray to whatever higher power they believed in.

The Reverend Vincent Kolb at Sixth Presbyterian Church was blocks away.

"We just opened our doors so that people could gather because there was such pain in the community that night and shock," Kolb said.

Within a week, more than 100 leaders of different faiths stood with Jewish leaders at the memorial at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall.

The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, where Imam Chris Caras is now a leader, collected and donated money to help pay for funeral costs, and faith leaders and their congregations around the region supported one another.

This wasn't the first time, according to the Reverend Canon Natalie Hall at Church of the Redeemer in Squirrel Hill and with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

"That allowed us, when Tree of Life happened, not to figure out a way to come together but to come together on the basis of the relationships that were already cultivated," Hall said.

Rabbi Ron Symons, senior director of Jewish Life with the JCC Center for Loving Kindness, said while the relationships were there, the tragedy at Tree of Life inspired a vigor to grow them.

"From that moment on, there was an increased energy that this wasn't an attack on one of us. It was an attack on all of us," Symons said.

Caras added that they want "to make that connection strong, not only at times of tragedy but all year round and lifelong, as they should be."

These faith leaders said one-on-one conversations with people of different faiths are a great start.

The Reverend Tim Smith, pastor of Keystone Church and CEO of Center of Life community center in Hazelwood, said it's especially important for people from different communities, backgrounds and life experiences to talk.

"It'll help break down stereotypes for generations and be able to value folks for who they are individually and not use a broad brush to marginalize any particular group," Smith said.

Hall continued, "By engaging in these relationships, it's just harder to dislike your neighbor. You're eating together, you're breathing together. you're planning, organizing, you're praying together."

It's about finding our common humanity to tackle tough issues, including race relations, police relations, climate change, poverty and a pandemic.

Smith explains, "This is not a sprint. This is a marathon. This is a journey."

These religious leaders all said while they have their differences, they share much in common, primarily that we are all created in the image of God and that each person has value.

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