The Tragedy and Horror of the Charleston Church Shooting

June 18, 2015Claire Shimberg

Nine people were killed last night at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., when a 21-year-old man opened fire. The tragedy has shaken the country and reminded us that violence and hatred know no boundaries, and can reach us even within the walls of a house of worship. Rachel Laser, deputy director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, shared the following statement:

We are heartbroken by last night’s attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those whose lives were taken, those who were injured, and with the entire community that has been traumatized by this violence. For all congregants – from the youngest children in religious school, to young professionals engaged in religious life, to long-time stalwarts of the community – houses of worship are places of safety, comfort and inspiration. For the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to have become last night a place of such horror tears at the heart of every person of faith and goodwill.

We are relieved that the police have identified and captured the suspect. Prior to the arrest, Charleston police Chief Greg Mullen asserted that this attack is a hate crime. If so, we reaffirm that religious intolerance, racial discrimination and hate-motivated violence have no place in our society, which aspires to be a haven for people of all faiths, races and ethnicities.

This attack also serves as yet another tragic reminder of the violence wrought by guns, which fall too easily into the hands of those who seek to cause grievous harm. Our Jewish tradition teaches: “He who takes one life it is as though he has destroyed the universe” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). Today we stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in the African Methodist Episcopal community as we pray for those who were murdered and send our thoughts and strength to the families of the victims and those who were wounded.

One of the victims of the tragedy was state senator and Reverend Clementa Pinckney. Rabbi Stephanie Alexander of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue in Charleston reflected in an email to congregants that Rev. Pinckney “was a very special colleague in the interfaith community” and that hearing him speak was a privilege:

“No matter the setting, his message was always inspirational, and the eloquence and beauty of his voice was nothing less than an instrument of peace itself. In every interaction I was privileged to share, Rev. Pinckney was graceful and sincere. At 41, his star was still very much rising both in Charleston’s religious community and South Carolina’s legislature. His leadership and his sweet soul will be sorely missed.”

Attempting to understand tragedies like this one is challenging if not impossible. That is even more true when attempting to help children process such events. We hope that you will find the following resources helpful.

Finally, we hope that you will join us in sending prayers and messages of support to the Emanuel AME Church community. The messages will be compiled and delivered to the church to ensure the families feel loved and supported.

This tragedy reminds us of the persistence of hate, discrimination, and gun violence and how much work remains to be done to create a world in which everyone is treated with respect and compassion. Our community joins together to mourn the deaths of these 9 lives that were taken too soon and to work together to build a better tomorrow. Zichrono livracha, may their memories be for blessing.

Check out the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's website for more information about the Reform Jewish community's on civil rights, hate crimes and gun violence prevention.

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