The following is the text of the speech given last Sunday at Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford. It was offered during a community candlelight Vigil for the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, 11 of whose members were slain in mass shooting Oct. 27.
How long, oh Lord, how long?
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, oh Lord, how long?
Shalom. As-salaam alaykum. Peace be with you.
My name is Joel Lohr and I serve as the President of Hartford Seminary. On behalf of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees and friends, I am here to express our collective sympathy, our solidarity with you, and our brokenness over this senseless tragedy.
When Rabbi Michael Pincus kindly asked me if I would say a few words I confess that I was dumbfounded. What does one say? What can I say? How can anything I say possibly be worthy of vocalizing in the face of such horror? I found myself stuck, stuck on the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 6: How long, oh Lord, how long?
I am here to extend my hand to you, our Jewish communities, and to honor those who died. May their memory, somehow, be for a blessing.
I see many of our faculty and students here tonight — Muslim, Christian, and Jewish, and we are here because you are our siblings, siblings in the same human family. Though we may not all share a common faith, we share a common humanity.
At Hartford Seminary we are trying to be a place that values all human beings as members of the same human family, even as we explore our religious differences that make us the wonderfully diverse people we are.
As an educator, and as the president of an interfaith graduate school, I am reminded of our duty to use education to heal our world—tikkun olam—and to transform society. Personally, as someone of Christian faith, I feel compelled to acknowledge the ways in which my history, my Christian history, is ugly with Antisemitism.
I can still recall reading Edward Kessler’s Introduction to Jewish-Christian Relations and being so ashamed, so troubled. Despite Kessler’s sincere attempt, as a Jewish scholar, to highlight positive historical moments in our relationship as Jews and Christians, there were so few.
More often than not, Christians have not only allowed Antisemitism to go unchecked, but have fostered it. I humbly call on all of my Christian brothers and sisters, all of my siblings whatever your denomination or position, to rethink how we relate to our Jewish family.
May the Holy One grant us wisdom. May the Holy One forgive us. And may the Holy One help us to heal and to turn from sin (teshuvah).
My prayer tonight is that you, our Jewish communities, would know that we stand with you. My prayer is also that we might all support each other, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and all people of faith and no faith. That we might embrace the way of love, doing our utmost to emphasize our traditions and Scriptures that point to the way of love— Love of God and Love of Neighbor.
May God give all of us strength. May God comfort God’s people. Even while we ask: How long, oh Lord, how long?
Joel N. Lohr is President of the Hartford Seminary.