Last year, on October 27, 2018, an armed gunman entered the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, PA, and began firing on worshippers. Eleven people lost their lives that day, and six more were injured. Rabbi Avi Friedman of Congregation Ohr Shalom in Summit, NJ, one of Family Promise Union County’s emergency shelter host sites, was once the spiritual leader at Tree of Life and knew many of the victims.
The children in Family Promise Union County’s shelter program at the time of the attack knew Rabbi Avi and had stayed at his congregation. They wanted to find a way to console him.
“We were talking about the tragedy and how people died because of their religion, and we decided to do something special for Rabbi Avi and the four other Jewish congregations in our program,” says Family Promise Union County Executive Director Geleen Donovan.
A local artist taught the children how to draw the Star of David and other Jewish symbols while the children, who ranged in age from four to 15, asked questions about religion and the common bonds we all share. The kids drew pictures and wrote healing words in Hebrew to show their sympathy and support for the congregations that had been helping them and their families while they battled with homelessness.
“They understand loss,” explains Donovan. “They’ve felt the pain of losing their homes.”
The drawings and writings were duplicated, assembled into albums, and presented to the five Jewish congregations that participate in the Union County program: Congregation Ohr Shalom (Summit, NJ), Temple Emanu-el (Westfield, NJ), Temple Sinai (Summit, NJ), Temple Sholom (Scotch Plains, NJ), and Temple Sha-rey Shalom (Springfield, NJ).
Rabbi Avi was incredibly moved by the gesture.
“Very often, we get involved with organizations like Family Promise because we think we have something to offer others,” he says. “Inevitably, though, we find out that we get much more back than we could ever give. Those kids lifted me up when I was all the way down.”
On the one-year anniversary of this terrible tragedy, Family Promise would like to offer its gratitude and appreciation to the Jewish congregations in Union County and the hundreds more across the country that work hand-in-hand to help families battling homelessness regain independence. Family Promise volunteers and supporters empower families to transform their lives and offer children the future every child deserves. Working together, the many hands of Family Promise can achieve great things.
Donovan sums it up best: “The children understand we’re all part of the same community, we’re all connected. They understand that love is the answer.”