Muskegon community extends the love to its Jewish members



By Cynthia Price

On Oct. 27, a gunman entered  Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh during their Shabbat services and killed the following 11 people: Joyce Fienberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and his brother David Rosenthal, 54; Bernice Simon, 84, and her husband Sylvan Simon, 86; Daniel Stein, 71; Melvin Wax, 87; and Irving Younger, 69.

Every indication from the past public actions of the shooter (in particular, posting on well-known “alt-right” sites) is that he committed this horrific crime because he hated Jewish people. In keeping with what investigators found, they charged him with multiple counts under Federal hate crime laws in addition to the state murder charges.

The Muskegon community reacted with pain and disbelief – and ultimately with love.

First the anonymous note pictured at right was found on Temple B’Nai Israel (downtown Muskegon) Rabbi Alan Alpert’s car. Next, flowers began to appear on the temple’s steps.

Then, Monday evening, about 150 people came out  to demonstrate that people of all faiths and without faith stand with the local Jews (and Jews everywhere) in their grief – to show that there is no place here for hate or anti-semitism.

Muskegon’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies organized the “Gathering of Healing and Solidarity” on a quick timeline, and its Chair, Rev. Chris Anderson, presided.

The organizers deemed it appropriate to include victims of other national tragedies who were targeted because of hatred. These included the recent deaths at a Kroger store in Jeffersonville, Ky., after the killer attempted to enter a Baptist church and could not get in; tragedies in Portland, Ore., New York, Olathe, Kans., and Tulsa, Okla.; the nine people killed in Charleston at the Emanuel AME Church in 2015; and the six victims at the Oak Creek, Wisc., Sikh Temple in 2012.

The ever-energetic Anna Alpert, wife of the rabbi, helped run the touching and heartfelt service, held at the new Sturrus Center of Muskegon Community College downtown.

It consisted of statements from a number of faith traditions and a civic organization; a reading of inspiring and comforting quotes; a chance for people to greet and comfort one another; and a couple of songs, during which people somewhat spontaneously joined together to hold hands around the room.

Speakers included Bonnie Johnson of the Baha’i faith; Brianna Scott (who has since gone on to win her seat on the Michigan State Board of Trustees) representing Rotary and its Love Lives
Here campaign; DW Tolbert, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church; Kim Burr of the Unitarian-Universalist Church; John Sakellarioiu, priest at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church; Jim Schiltz, deacon of Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese; Rishi Makkar of the West Michigan Sikh Community; Muslim Zahabia Ahmed-Usmani, of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute (the organization begun by Muskegonite Lillian Kaufman to promote interfaith dialogue, now headed up by Doug Kindschi of Grand Valley State University); and Rabbi Alan Alpert himself.

Both Makkar and Ahmed-Usmani spoke very movingly. Makkar’s Sikh faith believes in honesty, equality, fidelity, meditating on a monotheistic god, and never bowing to tyranny. Makkar was very gentle and expressed gratitude for the recognition of the Sikh’s killed at Oak Creek.

Ahmed-Usmani’s charge at the Kaufman Interfaith Institute is to focus on developing partnerships along the lakeshore (Holland, Grand Haven, Muskegon), and she seemed very comfortable with the variety of people present at the service.

In response to a series of quotes spoken by community members, including the President of Temple B’Nai Israel Bob Scolnik, those gathered were encouraged to respond “Selah,” a Hebrew word whose meaning is difficult to pin down, but was characterized in the event program as “to pause, to reflect and consider.”

One of the quotes, spoken by a young woman, was from Anne Frank, shortly before her death at the hands of the German Nazis: “I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day will destroy us too. I feel the sufferings of millions. And yet, when?I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.” Selah.