Cards from Northaven UMC to Congregation Beth El Binah offer hope during a week of darkness

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer

I was searching for something to say about the Oct. 27 massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. But which shade of disgusting accurately describes gunning down a 97-year-old woman?

All I could do was post the names and ages of the victims. I had nothing much else to say, and I spent a good part of my Monday talking to Dallas police about security for our local LGBT synagogue.

Then, that evening, I went to a Congregation Beth El Binah emergency board meeting. Waiting for us in the board room of Northaven United Methodist Church where we meet — I mean, where we share a home — was a beautiful plant and more than 60 handwritten cards.

One of them read simply, “In the darkness, there is light.”

The cards expressed sympathy for our congregation’s pain, but actually, our friends at Northaven were grieving along with us. Our residence in their building only brought the shootings closer to home. Our pain is their pain.

“Please know that we share your pain, and we stand in solidarity with you,” the Rev. Marti Soper wrote in her card to our congregation. “Know you are indeed a part of our family — the family of our shared God.”

The Rev. Bill McElvaney, who performed the wedding ceremony for George Harris and Jack Evans in 2014, was pastor emeritus of Northaven until his death later that year. His widow, Fran, is still a member of the congregation. She wrote, “Please know that we are holding you in our hearts and in our thoughts and grieving with you that there is such enmity and hatred in our world.”

Mrs. McElvaney, I had the pleasure of spending some time talking to your husband at Jack and George’s reception and was an instant fan of his wit, his warmth and his love. Thank you for your love at this difficult time.

From congregants, some of the messages were short:

One wrote, “Remember you are loved.”

Some turned to prayer: “Our hearts are broken at the violence your community is suffering. We will pray for changed hearts and speak that prayer at every opportunity,” one wrote, while another communed, “May our Creator, Sustainer and Provider be your Comforter.”

All expressed love: “Our hearts are broken — as are yours,” and from another Northaven member, “My heart and love are with you all.”

Some turned toward hope: “May love and tolerance overcome hate and evil.” Some looked for a solution: “There are many who stand with you, and together we will be the light to overcome the darkness,” wrote one Northaven congregant. “You are not alone. Love will win.”

Some wrote something simple but so deeply genuine: “Thinking of you.”

Some comments were directed at Tree of Life Synagogue as much as to Beth El Binah: “My heart breaks at the tragedy that was so cruelly brought to your congregation as you worshipped yesterday. You are not alone. We share your grief.”

We’ll make sure Tree of Life gets these beautiful notes. But that message was also to Beth El Binah, because a shooting in one synagogue is like a shooting in every synagogue. That gun was aimed at all of us.

The wonderful partnership Northaven and Beth El Binah developed started when both congregations were accepted as Black Tie Dinner beneficiaries. When Beth El Binah lost its longtime worship space a few years ago, Northaven welcomed us with open arms.

Things have worked out so well, I’m not sure why lots more congregations don’t do this.

Northaven, of course, celebrates Sabbath on Sunday. Beth El Binah celebrates Shabbat on Friday night and Saturday, and Jewish holidays can’t fall on a Sunday for a variety of reasons that have to do with prohibitions against preparing for a holiday on Shabbat and our crazy lunar calendar.

Our first year at Northaven, we spontaneously came up with the obvious solution for the one Friday night a year that we overlap — Good Friday. We attended their service and some of them attended ours right afterwards.

Wow. What a concept — enjoying each other’s traditions; loving and respecting each other; caring about each other; learning from each other and just becoming friends.

And putting up with some of our nonsense.

When Beth El Binah moved in, we renamed parts of their church. For example, the building is equipped with a Schindler brand elevator, which we refer to as “Schindler’s Lift.”

The only thing that could make our churchagogue better is if we could find a Muslim group to share the space with us. That would be the ultimate efficiency in use of space since Islam’s sabbath is Friday.

What?! A Jewish group working with a Muslim group?!

In the ultimate act of community goodness, Pittsburgh’s Muslim community has raised more than $150,000 to cover funeral costs and other expenses for Tree of Life Synagogue. That story needs to get more attention — not visits by politicians looking for publicity before an election.

In the mean time — security concerns. If Democrats do well in the elections, will that anger racists? And if Republicans do well in the elections, will that embolden those same bigots?

So when one Northaven member wrote to the congregation, “We are grateful that we share this space as we work to spread love and peace in the world,” I was glad I did what I did. When I spoke to Dallas police about security, I made sure they had not just Beth El Binah’s schedule, but Northaven’s as well. That’s because, as one member of Northaven wrote in a card to us, “To all of you — We are your family.”

In dark times, it’s so good to have family. We’re your family as well.

And another wrote, “We are glad you are here.”

So are we.

David Taffet is the senior writer for Dallas Voice and is secretary of Beth El Binah, the predominately LGBT Jewish synagogue in North Texas.