A show of solidarity in the Hill District for Tree of Life becomes a call to action for gun reform

“I’m telling you now, this is how you can show that support … Let’s get it done already.”

Rev. James H. Harris, right, of St. James AME in Pittsburgh, says a prayer in honor of the 11 victims who lost their lives inside the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday.

Rev. James H. Harris, right, of St. James AME in Pittsburgh, says a prayer in honor of the 11 victims who lost their lives inside the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday.

Mykal McEldowney / USA TODAY Network
MJ Slaby

It’s the little things. The texts and emails of support. The five minutes to read them.

That’s what’s keeping the Jewish community together right now, said Josh Sayles, director of the Community Relations Council for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. This is a sad time, he said, but the community will pick up the pieces.

“It’s really, really hard to see that right now,” said Sayles, who praised community support and donations.

One in particular stood out, he said. An electronic donation came with the note: “We are from Parkland and our tragedy continues. And we share it with your community. Please reach out for anything or just to talk anytime.”

Sayles and five other members of the Community Relations Council attended a press conference Monday at Freedom Unlimited in the Hill District organized by nine community groups including the Black Political Empowerment Project, NAACP Pittsburgh, and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. Meant as a statement of solidarity following Saturday’s mass shooting at Tree of Life in Squirrel Hill, it also doubled as a call to action to prevent gun violence.

“Some will say that it’s too early to pivot,” said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA. But, she said, disarming hate is “not rocket science.” She urged attendees to ask candidates that come to their doors about gun reform.

There are consequences to the words coming from “that individual that sits in the White House,” said Richard A. Stewart Jr., president of the NAACP in Pittsburgh, adding that the community will not give up. “I don’t know what they are thinking down there, but we are not going anywhere,” he said, urging people to vote.

President Donald Trump announced today that he will visit Pittsburgh on Tuesday to “grieve with the families” of victims.

Also at the event, religious leaders from across the region spoke about their love for the Jewish community and the support they wanted to offer. But they, too, called for action — to move beyond tolerance, to remove the “roots of racism,” and to show love.

“I’m here because there is a need in our city … Saturday just burned my heart,” said Delphina Blackburn, a city police chaplain.

After 11 religious leaders spoke, they were joined by members of the Community Relations Council for a prayer before Sayles took the podium.

He read 11 names.

“We’re here to today to honor the memory of the 11 community members who were killed simply because they were Jewish,” he said.

Hate like that isn’t just for one group, he warned, adding that people who hate don’t just hate one group of people.

Sayles called for “comprehensive, common-sense gun legislation,” and said while politicians have expressed their support for and stood with the Jewish community, they need to find a rational middle — and act.

“I’m telling you now, this is how you can show that support … Let’s get it done already,” he said.