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On Saturday, a man entered a synagogue in Pittsburgh and gunned down people who had gathered to worship. Eleven people lost their lives at the hands of an anti-Semitic murderer.
Seventy-six years ago, Hedwig Cahnmann died in the Belzec extermination camp in Poland. She and her husband, Sigwart, were two of nearly 6 million lives snuffed out by the Nazis. Their grandson, Stephen Cahnmann, is a newly appointed elder for the Manhattan Church of Christ, a multicultural, multinational congregation of believers that meets in the heart of New York City.
Steve grew up in a Jewish home and came to know Jesus as an adult. Over the years his faith has grown into a deep commitment to the messianic message of Jesus.
But being a Christian has never meant leaving Judaism for Steve. He cherishes his heritage; it deeply informs his Christian faith. Steve and his wife, Emily, have led the congregation in an annual Passover Seder for many years. In June, when their son Hans turned 13, they held his bar mitzvah in the church’s meeting place.
Every year during the Seder, Steve reminds the participants to honor and remember those who have suffered racial hatred, ethnic cleansing and genocide. He tells of his grandparents. His words build a bridge from New York to the Belzec camp of 1942.
Through Steve’s words, people who are strangers — living in another land, in another time, speaking a different language — become known and loved. They are no longer foreigners. They are no longer statistics. They are Steve’s grandparents, who suffered and died because of their faith.
Now we come together in grief and outrage in the presence of this great evil that has befallen the people of Pittsburgh.
We mourn for the families of Daniel Stein, Joyce Feinberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger. We are horrified to imagine murderous hatred infiltrating the sacred space where our Jewish brothers and sisters gathered to worship YHWH, the God of Abraham and Sarah; of Isaac and Rebekah; of Jacob, Rachel and Leah.
As Christians we stand with the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh.
We stand with them because our congregations are filled with people like Steve Cahnmann who didn’t abandon their Jewish heritage when they became Christians.
We stand with them because we are the disciples of a Jewish man who did not come to abolish the law or the prophets.
We stand with them because we share the Hebrew Bible — what we call the Old Testament — and through it we have learned that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
We stand with them because we know the value of congregational life and we respect all those who gather in worship.
We pray that the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our distress, will comfort those who grieve today. We pray that the peace that passes all understanding will guard their hearts and their minds.
We pray that God will heal our land , that guns will be turned into plows and bombs into pruning tools. We pray that neighbor will not take up weapons against neighbor and that wars will cease to the ends of the earth. We pray that the almighty God will be with all who suffer and wipe away every tear from their eyes.
We pray today.
Amy Bost-Henegar is associate minister for spiritual enrichment for the Manhattan Church of Christ. Read more of her writings at amybosthenegar.com.
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