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Forward 50 2018

Jeffrey Myers

Choosing Peace Before Politics

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers was introduced to the world in a photograph of him being rushed away from the Tree of Life synagogue, with a talit over one shoulder, clutching his kippah to his head. He quickly became the face of Jewish Pittsburgh, speaking at length to the media and eventually taking President Trump and his family on a tour of the devastated synagogue.

Myers greeted Trump against the wishes of many. Over 2,000 people protested Trump’s visit. The nephew of a man nearly killed in the shooting said Trump should stay away. Pittsburgh’s mayor said the same.

On the first Shabbat after the shooting, Myers opened up about why he spoke to Trump, in a sermon given before 1,000 worshippers, and the congregants of the three communities who lost members in the massacre. His sermon was an eloquent, impassioned call to his community to meet hate with love — no matter who, no matter when or where. Afterwards, he received a standing ovation. He was the only leader who spoke that morning who directly referenced the president.

“Hate is not about politics,” Myers told the Forward in a phone interview. “It’s never been about politics. Hate is across the board.”

Myers said that he has received emails condemning his decision, but that, overall, the response to his sermon has been positive. He knows his decision was fraught, but the way he saw it, he had two choices. One was to hole up with a bottle of scotch.

“The other option is to speak up loudly and forcefully for all that needs to be right and good in our country and our lives,” he said. “That’s the choice my tradition tells me. And that’s the way I went. And I’ve never looked back, and I’ve never regretted it.”

— Ari Feldman

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