|Dear colleagues, friends, and community members,
I write at this time to express our collective solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life synagogue, as well as with their families, friends, and the larger community.
We are all members of this society, and when one of us is hurt, we all hurt. As a university committed to practicing Benedictine Catholic values, we have the distinct privilege to embrace others when they are hurting, troubled, or in need. We are also part of a learning community, and as such have resources that can help us learn, as individuals or groups, ways to make this troubled world better.
To offer one example, we are home to the Saint Leo University Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies (CCJS), which actively teaches people about interreligious dialogue. That means listening deeply to those of different faiths and honoring their experiences, as we hope others will honor ours. This is the kind of work that helps individuals and communities engender respect and compassion—an antidote to bigotry and violence. CCJS connections extend into our classrooms from time to time, including, by chance, this week.
I was so grateful to learn that in spite of what happened Saturday, Rabbi Emeritus Richard Birnholz of Congregation Schaarai Zedek, a community friend of CCJS, came to campus to continue a previously scheduled team-teaching engagement in two sections our World Religions course. These particular sections are being taught by Dr. Matthew Tapie, an assistant professor of theology and director of CCJS. Rabbi Birnholz, I am told, on Monday recounted to our students numerous attacks on his own synagogue in the 1970s in Jackson, MS. Rabbi Birnholz emphasized that in this time of division, we need to recognize that we are all one human family.
We thank him for responding to our students’ questions, and moreover, for his leadership and example in time of distress. If the rabbi can extend himself to us during this time of enormous grief, surely we can do that for others. So, I implore each of us to continue to reach out to our Jewish brothers and sisters, to hold them in esteem, our warm embrace, and to offer the victims and families our prayers, as we work with them and others to build a more peaceful society.
Like Anne Frank, I hold that, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” Further, she directs us from her time to ours, and this incident, in her instruction that it is wonderful “that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Jeff Senese, Ph.D.