Georgetown mourns and honors the community of the Tree of Life Synagogue

Students, staff, faculty and faith leaders gathered in Dahlgren Quad Oct. 29 for an interfaith service to mourn and reflect on Saturday’s tragedy at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, PA. Rabbi Rachel Gartner and speakers from all faith backgrounds urged the community to recommit to creating a world we all want to live in. Below are excerpts and photos from the service.

crowd assembled in Dahlgren Quad for service

David Rosenthal, 54, and Cecil Rosenthal, 59
Richard Gottfried, 65
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Irving Younger, 69
Daniel Stein, 71
Joyce Fienberg, 75
Melvin Wax, 88
Bernice Simon, 84; Sylvan Simon, 86
Rose Mallinger, 97

– Rabbi Benjamin Barer, Jewish Chaplain and Brahmachari Sharan, director for Hindu Life (pictured above) reading the names of the victims of the Synagogue shooting. 

Ronit Zemel addressing the crowd

“In the Amidah, or the Standing Prayer, we praise the God of our ancestors, we say each one of their names– God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, God of Sarah, God of Rebecca, God of Rachel and God of Leah.

For every American synagogue, there are the ancestors, the anchors of the community. The older folks who push out the coffee cart for morning Torah study group, who welcome every newcomer and point them in the direction of the yarmulkes and prayer books, who bring home the tablecloths that get stained and bring them back clean the next week. Those who are always able to calm the nervous B’nai mitzvah student, and soothe a crying baby being named.

The folks who hold up the community through thick and thin. In my synagogue growing up, these were the Geris, and the Morts and Robertas. Any of us who spent time in congregations and communities know these people. These are the giants from the Tree of Life synagogue on whose shoulders we stand. These were the members of the community we lost on Saturday. Those who are always there on time, sitting in their same seats, reciting their Sabbath prayers celebrating the miracle of existence. We pray for them, and their families.”

– Ronit Zemel, Jewish engagement coordinator, Jewish Life (pictured above) 

Paige Harouse addressing the crowd

“I’m from Pittsburgh. To me, Squirrel Hill isn’t another tragedy on a map… I spent much of the weekend trying to reach friends and family as well as fielding calls from them.  Their love is appreciated and overwhelming, but, of many, I must ask more.

Every year on Yom HaShoah, we remember.  But every day of the year, we, as Jews or as allies, must act.  Call out the anti-Semitism of your family, your friends, your ‘groups.’ Don’t talk about the ‘globalists’ or the ‘Zionists’ or the ‘urbanites.’

Learn about Judaism from Jewish literature, not from the Merchant of Venice.  [And don’t] remain silent.  It’s not easy, in fact, it’s hard and frustrating and difficult, but it needs to happen.  This past Shabbat was a grim reminder that the tensions aren’t going anywhere.  That we’re gathered here today, tears still fresh, is a testament to our strength and perseverance.   The tensions may still be here, but we are too, with a hope that’s been burning for some 2000 years. Am yisrael chai.”

– Paige Harouse, COL ’19 (pictured above)

I will build this world with love
You will build this world with love
If we build this world with love
God will build this world with love

– from Psalm 89, sung by Rabbi Rachel Gartner, director for Jewish Life, (pictured above)

Watch the original song (with Hebrew) by Rabbi Menachem Creditor here.

Listen to a recording of the vigil service here.

For those wishing to honor the loss of precious life in Pittsburgh by studying something in their name, Jewish Life offers these three articles for your consideration:

Eric K Ward: Skin in the Game: How Anti-Semitism Animates White Nationalism
Rabbi Jill Jacobs: How To Tell When Criticism of Israel Is Actually Anti-Semitism
Benjamin Steinhart Case: Decolonizing Jewishness: On Jewish Liberation in the 21st Century 

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Faith as a pathway to resilience

Mena Mohamed, SFS’ 20

“What does it take to make a community more resilient?”

This question — asked at a panel I attended this past summer, Confronting the Global Forced Migration Crisis: Report Launch and hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies — has stayed with me long after my summer internship at the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA office.

There is no simple answer. The question of resilience is essentially about the capacity of humans to undergo hardship and build from it. In the context of global refugee communities, answers must include long-term and continuous engagement on behalf of governments, companies, and NGOs in order to provide the displaced with basic needs assistance, resettlement options, and employment pathways.

As I learned more about societal responses to the refugee crisis as a Policy and Advocacy Intern at JRS/USA, I began to ask, how I could engage on a more personal level and could my faith play a role as a foundation for resilience and a call to action.

As a Muslim, an immigrant, and someone who has grown up in religiously and culturally diverse communities, the refugee crisis and the search for better livelihoods deeply resonated with my own worldview. I felt a responsibility to educate myself on the complex ways that faith can motivate others to embrace difference and take action against injustice. At JRS this summer, I was able to see how faith and activism can be inextricably linked in the hearts of many.

Throughout my internship, I witnessed how building compassion through faith can work to reverse negative stereotypes about refugees and motivate policy changes. As one example, JRS/USA’s “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” refugee simulation asked community members from schools across the country, including Georgetown University, to learn about the struggles of refugees by experiencing the limits of available resources. At peer-led stations, students were asked to squeeze into a 37-square-foot tent together, carry heavy buckets of water, and eat meager portions of rice and beans for a meal. Although these simulations cannot be compared to the reality many refugees face, the exercise helped students imagine their experience, thus building empathy for refugees.

Furthermore, on World Refugee Day, I worked with JRS/USA to deliver a petition signed by 815 people from across the country. The petition called for an increase in the number of refugees admitted to the United States and robust humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees displaced by ongoing conflict. These activities and other advocacy campaigns serve as a starting point for acceptance and motivate participants to support refugees in their plight for safety and security in their religious communities and in the offices of policymakers.

It is clear that the goals and strategies of refugee advocacy are constantly shifting. As I continue my JRS internship into this semester, I reflect on my future in the campaign for the humanization, dignity, and support for global refugees and migrants. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities and knowledge that JRS/USA has granted me, and as long as I remember my initial motivation to get involved, my commitment to refugees and immigrants will continue to grow and evolve.

by Mena Mohamed, SFS’ 20

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Jesuit Values Panel 2018: In Service of the Greater Good

photo of moderator with chaplains

Moderator, Vishal Menon (far left) with the Campus Ministry chaplains

Each year the New Student Orientation (NSO) organizing committee invites Campus Ministry chaplains to present an interreligious dialogue on the university’s Jesuit values on the Saturday night of NSO weekend. This panel conversation introduces the incoming class to these guiding values and invites them to engage them through their own traditions and experiences.

This year’s panel included Rabbi Rachel Gardner, Rev. Brandon Harris, Imam Yahya Hendi,V. Rev. David Pratt, Fr. Greg Schenden, S.J., and Brahmachari V. Sharan, and was moderated by Vishal Menon, a senior at the McDonough School of Business.

Menon opened the panel describing the ways the Jesuit Values have guided and influenced his time at Georgetown. He said, “they push you to dig deeper in finding the purpose and meaning behind your academic and extracurricular endeavors,” and urged the Class of 2022, to engage with the Values during their time at the Hilltop, and to think of them as a path toward creating a life of meaning and purpose at Georgetown, as well as after.

Drawing from their faith traditions the chaplains encouraged the Class to live authentic and unique lives not just for themselves, but in service of one another. “We all have to exist in order that we exist ourselves,” said Imam Hendi.

This call to live for the greater good also serves as a reminder to the rest of the university community of what we as an institution strive for—that in the midst of our differences we must remember our collective humanity.

Menon closed the panel with a quote from the late Fr Howard Gray S.J., “Before we look at the communion we have together bound by an official faith, we ought to look at the communion we have bound by the faith in the humanness of one another.”

To hear the full panel, click on the Soundcloud player below.

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A Letter from the Vice President for Mission and Ministry & Director of Campus Ministry

Dear Friends:

As we have settled into the new school year, the chaplains and staff of Mission and Ministry acknowledge the heaviness of heart that so many members of the Georgetown Community are feeling due to the ongoing crises surrounding sexual abuse, abuses of power, and failure of those in authority to protect the vulnerable. Members of the Catholic Community are particularly wounded by this betrayal of trust, and many are sorting through this spiritual challenge and emotional trauma.

The Pennsylvania Report on the sexual abuse of minors, the announcements of investigations by Attorneys General in additional states around the country, and other recent revelations have shown just how systemic the abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Church has been.  We are now in a time of deep reflection on how best to ensure these abuses never happen again, and how to address any abuses going forward.

The horrific details of what was covered up once again reminds us of the many survivors of abuse, the ways many bishops failed them, and the ways many bishops have failed the Catholic Church. It is all the more appalling because Catholic parishes, schools, and universities have rightly earned a reputation as places that care for the vulnerable and nurture students in the values of the Catholic faith.

Therefore, we ask:  What might Georgetown’s Office of Mission and Ministry do in the midst of this tragic moment?

  • We categorically stand with survivors of sexual abuse and call our Church to task for its corporate sinfulness.
  • We use our intellectual, spiritual, and communal life together as a university to interrogate this tragedy and assist the Church so that these abuses and cover-ups never happen again.
  • We accompany each other in our diverse faith traditions, especially reaching out to the Catholic Community. We take the time to listen to each other, express our anguish, and walk with each other on the path of justice.
  • We review our policies and procedures for the prevention of sexual abuse in any of its forms.

Georgetown University has hosted several events in recent weeks to address this time of crisis. The Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life has held two events with wide attendance and wide media coverage:

  • Crisis of Faith? A Gathering for Young Catholic Professionals at the School of Continuing Studies on September 17, 2018.
  • Confronting a Moral Catastrophe: Lay Leadership, Catholic Social Teaching, and the Sexual Abuse Crisis, in Gaston Hall on September 25, 2018.

Going forward, the Office of Mission and Ministry—in conjunction with its campus partners—is spearheading three additional events this semester:

  • A Response to the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis with Patricia McGuire, J.D. (L’77), President of Trinity Washington University: Wednesday, October 10, 6:30 PM, Dahlgren Chapel.
  • Dahlgren Dialogue: A Path Forward in the Sexual Abuse Crisis: October 24, 7:00 PM, Dahlgren Chapel.
  • A Liturgy of Music and Prayer for Repentance: November 19, 5:00 PM, Dahlgren Chapel.

Finally, as many of us are feeling both sorrow and anger at this time, we must—each of us—feel free to share from our own perspective, our sense of betrayal. We can acknowledge that the Church has work to do in addressing these failures, while keeping our focus on the needs of those who have been the victims of these failures.

Georgetown University and its Office of Mission and Ministry lend themselves to being part of the transformation that is needed in the Church and in the world. Through our Ignatian and Catholic heritage and our interreligious partnerships, let us continue this academic year with hope, sorrow, tears, and a renewed commitment to a faith that does justice.

Mark Bosco, S.J., Ph.D.
Vice President for Mission and Ministry
Georgetown University

Gregory Schenden, S.J.
Director of Campus Ministry
Georgetown University


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V. Rev. David Pratt, Ph.D.: Orthodox Christian Chaplaincy Director

a photo of Fr. Pratt

V. Rev. David Pratt, Ph.D

Dear Members of the Georgetown Community,

We are pleased to announce the appointment of the V. Rev. David Pratt, Ph.D. as Georgetown’s Orthodox Christian chaplaincy director. In addition to this role, he will serve as a residential minister in Reynolds Hall. Fr. Pratt joins us from St. Martin’s University in Washington, where he held the position of associate professor of philosophy for the past ten years, and from New York Theological Seminary, where he held the position of sessional professor of pastoral practice for the past three.

An archpriest in the Russian Orthodox Church, Fr. Pratt brings extensive pastoral experience. For 23 years he served as a chaplain and ethicist in the United States Armed Forces, including positions in the Marine Corps, Navy and Air National Guard. He also previously served as rector of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Corpus Christi, TX.

Fr. Pratt holds a Ph.D. in comparative ethics from the University of Louvain, an S.T.L. from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, an M.Div. from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, and both bachelors and masters degrees from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology at Berkeley.

We are grateful to the search committee of students, faculty and staff who thoughtfully supported this effort. I am also deeply appreciative of the support of the V. Rev. John Vitko, chancellor of the Washington archdiocese of the Orthodox Church in America, who served as interim chaplain for the 2017-18 academic year.

Please join us in welcoming Fr. Pratt to Georgetown.

Rev. Mark Bosco, S.J., Ph.D.
Vice President for Mission and Ministry

Rev. Gregory Schenden, S.J.
Director of Campus Ministry

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