, Newburyport, MA


April 22, 2013

A place of sanctuary in time of need

To the editor:

On April 18, I attended an interfaith service of psalms, prayers and remembrance held at Congregation Ahavas Achim in memory of Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard and Lu Lingzi. The three were killed Monday, April 15, by a terrorist bomb while watching the end of the Boston Marathon.

While waiting for the service to begin, my mind wandered to the last time I was in a church for an interfaith service; it was 1965 in Pleasantville, N.Y., “Readers Digest” country, a community much like Newburyport. The Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian minister from Boston, was among many white clergymen from Boston who had joined the Selma, Ala., march across the Edmund Pettus bridge. Reeb was beaten to death by white men as he walked down a street in Selma, March 11, 1965. This was the season of “Freedom Riders”; hundreds of young people took buses and trains into the South to assist in voter registration. Those who journeyed are now in their 70s or 80s, but I am certain they remember the trepidation as their buses were burned and no one in authority assisted.

Strange, too, that several names came to mind while in the synagogue. Just like we learned by rote, “Jesus Loves Me This I Know,” I remembered Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney as the civil rights workers who were killed June 21, 1964, in Mississippi. Their bodies were found in a landfill near a dam under construction. These deaths resulted from people going into harm’s way, but acceptance of the risk was their lot in life.

The three remembered this night in the synagogue, innocent bystanders to a happy event seen around the world, suffered from a horrific act.

The interfaith program was dedicated to healing and peace in the world; it celebrated life and history. Here we were, 250 people of different faiths sitting in a synagogue and singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”! It boggled my mind as it would have Martin Luther’s. For a fleeting moment, another tune ran through my mind from Monday’s baseball game at Yankee Stadium: “Sweet Caroline,” the Fenway song. It was named for Caroline, whose dad, John Kennedy, was shot in 1963 by a deranged gunman. We recited Psalms in unison: Psalm 77, “I cried out to God for help,” Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in time of trouble” and several more, all written by David, a Jew, as was Jesus Christ.

I was impressed by Mayor Donna Holaday’s statement at the conclusion of the service. She said, “We needed to be here tonight.” Our refuge is our church, whether we recognize it or not. A familiar quote states, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Yes, this is where we needed to be! There is strength in unity and we are united in our belief for peace. Shalom.



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