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Hampton/Shaler

Temple Ohav Shalom gets interfaith, community support amid Tree of Life shooting

| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018, 12:24 p.m.

The Tree of Life tragedy affected everyone and especially every Jewish community in Pittsburgh, said Jeremy Weisblatt, rabbi at Temple Ohav Shalom in Allison Park.

Whether it’s in Allison Park or Squirrel Hill, “Jewish congregations in Pittsburgh are a very tight-knit Jewish community,” he said.

Weisblatt said he’s seen a lot of response, especially from nearby interfaith communities.

“We received a lot of community support. It shows how special Pittsburgh is,” he said.

Just a few days after the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, Weisblatt said he spoke to many members of his congregation who were troubled.

Weisblatt said he’s more than eager to speak to anyone who is looking for comfort, offering his cellphone number and other contact information for that reason.

Last Friday night, they planned to hold an interfaith Shabbat Service at their synagogue on Thompson Run Road. Jeff Sterling, lead pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Allison Park, helped with the coordination of this service.

Sterling is a regular visitor at the synagogue and close friend of Weisblatt’s. He often speaks at the synagogue, occasionally at their regular Friday night Shabbat services.

Ironically enough, Sterling was there as a guest speaker at their Shabbat the night before the Oct. 27 tragedy. His theme was “Tree of Life,” referring to one of the two trees in Old Testament’s Book of Genesis. Sterling said “Tree of Life” is planted along with the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good of Evil” in the Garden of Eden, the latter from which Adam and Eve famously ate.

Though he wasn’t referencing the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, he couldn’t believe what he woke up to the news next morning. He soon called Weisblatt, who obviously was shaken, he said.

Sterling said they offered prayer services at St. Paul’s and even the church if Weisblatt wanted to use it on Friday nights for Shabbat. Sterling is also part of NORTH, or Neighboring Organizations Responding Together for Hope, a network of faith-based and secular groups, which is also offering support.

Sterling said he knows there’s been a lot of support from the Muslim Association Pittsburgh North, Mormon faith representatives, various Christian churches, and more.

“The best thing for us is to support our Jewish friends,” said Sterling.

Weisblatt, who is originally from Philadelphia, said his wife, who works at the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, has roots here. He’s been rabbi at Temple Ohav Shalom for almost two years.

Other support has come from the community. So far, the Hampton Township School District has sent home communication with resources for parents in talking to their children about it, according to Shari Berg, communications consultant for the district. They also will have support in place for any student who needs them and they are directing families who are asking how they can help victims to an outside fundraiser link.

The Township of Hampton also noted its support on its website. Council President Mike Peters offered his condolences and thoughts on behalf of council and staff.

“We, as a community, are shocked and horrified by the unthinkable act of terror that was visited upon our friends and neighbors in Squirrel Hill. Hatred of any kind has no place in our township, or our city. There are no words of solace that could ever ease their pain and grief, but our thoughts are with the victims and their families,” said Peters.

Weisblatt said they are waiting to hear from the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh on any upcoming related events to the tragedy. But to check their Facebook page for any upcoming news.

Weisblatt has offered that anybody who needs to talk may call him at 412-714-6428.

Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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