Photos by Milan Loiacono
The Pepperdine community gathered for a prayer service in Stauffer Chapel Tuesday night following the recent shootings in Pittsburgh and Kentucky. The Office of the Chaplain and the Glazer Institute for Jewish Studies hosted the service for people of all faiths to join together to pray and memorialize the victims.
“Many people are feeling fear,” University Chaplain Sara Barton, the primary organizer of the prayer service, said. “We prayed about that and decided that this is a time when we want to give people the opportunity to come together and pray and be comforted with each other.”
At a Kroger supermarket in Louisville, Kentucky, Wednesday, Oct. 24, Gregory Bush shot and killed Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones. On Saturday, Robert Bowers opened fire on the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, taking the lives of 11 people and injuring six.
Mainly faculty and staff attended the somber half-hour service, which featured participants from across Pepperdine’s five schools and from varying religious backgrounds.
“This is an interfaith experience,” Barton said. “People in our community of all faiths have been affected by violence, so we need to understand that people of faith can come together and support each other.”
Barton began the service with a welcome explaining how the Pepperdine community must unite during times of trauma. She then lit a candle in memory of the victims of the Kentucky shooting. Afterward, Rabbi Lisa Bock of Westlake Village shared a poem she wrote after learning of the shooting. Bock asked God for courage and strength to make the world a better place in verses in English and Hebrew.
“There are more good people than not,” Bock said. “We should reach out to one another. We cannot let the slavery of hate control us.”
Eleven members of the Pepperdine community read short descriptions of each victim’s life and lit a candle in their honor. Candle-lighters included Christian and senior SGA President Austin Welch, Baha’i senior Mateen Taghizadeh and Sikh Professor and Managing Director of the Straus Institute at the Law School Sukhsimranjit Singh.
“I was extremely honored to be one of the candle-lighters and share the story of Bernice Simon, whose husband was also killed over the weekend,” Welch wrote in an email. “The story hit home and brought tears to my eyes because 60 years earlier was when Mr. and Mrs. Simon were married in Tree of Life Synagogue, and they should not have had to lose their lives in such a horrible way, especially at the place where they began their life together 60 years prior.”
After the candle-lighting, Senior Director of Student Administrative Services Andrea Harris shared the Hebrew prayer “Kel Maleh Rachamim” asking for compassion for the departed souls and encouraged those present at the service to engage in acts of kindness and good to help “lift the souls to heaven.”
Associate Provost for Assessment and Institutional Effectiveness Lisa Bortman echoed Harris’ sentiments while reading scripture, calling for an end to violence.
“The fruit of the righteous is the tree of life, but violence ends lives,” Bortman said, quoting Proverbs 11.
The remainder of the service included Assistant Professor of English John Peterson sharing Rabbi Allen S. Maller’s poem, “When All That’s Left is Love” while all the service-goers held hands, a song by alumnus Wilson Howard and a closing prayer by Interim Associate Dean of Seaver College Kindalee De Long.
Welch wrote that he thought the service showed the community’s dedication to Pepperdine’s mission by uniting attendees to give support to all affected by the shootings.
“[It was] a time to leave political opinions at the door and to come together to celebrate life and pray for those who lost their lives and for those who have been seriously impacted by the acts over the past few days,” Welch wrote.
Freshman Karina Weingard, who is Jewish, attended the service and wrote a letter of comfort to send to the Tree of Life congregation afterward. She said she was disappointed in the hatred and anti-Semitism in today’s society, but was pleased that the Pepperdine community supports all its members during this time.
“I think [the service] was very respectful,” Weingard said. “When I got the email, I felt that I was in a community that accepted everyone. Going to Pepperdine, I was not raised Christian or Catholic, so I always thought I would lose some of my Jewish heritage. Knowing that they accept everyone and show so much respect, I just knew that this is my home.”
Follow Ryan Harding on Twitter: @ryanhardingCA