Malden temple honors Tree of Life victims with word and song

On Saturday, Nov. 10, Fern Remedi-Brown stood up to address fellow members of Congregation Agudas Achim-Ezrath Israel as well as  community leaders and other guests. Just two weeks earlier, on Oct. 27, 11 men and women were gunned down at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, in what is considered the deadliest massacre of Jews on U.S. soil. Sadly, she told the crowd, “This reminds many of us of Germany in the 1930s.”

State Senator Jason Lewis speaks at the “Sabbath of Remembrance”

Remedi-Brown, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, was part of a Sabbath of Remembrance and Reflection, held at the congregation’s temple on Bryant Street in Malden, to honor the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre. The mood of the event was somber, yet deeply respectful and caring in tone. The event began with a service honoring veterans, especially members of Malden Post 74, led by Sexton Wayne Freedman, and continued with a “Service of Reflection” with special readings and reflections from local faith and community leaders.

A stream of people came to the bimah (pulpit) to speak, including Malden Mayor Gary Christenson, Pastor Emily Hamilton of First Lutheran Church, and the Rev. Otto O’Connor of First Parish, a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Nichole Mossalam spoke on behalf of the Malden Islamic Center. State Senator Jason Lewis talked about his family members who perished during the Holocaust.

City Council President Debbie DeMaria speaks from the heart at the remembrance service.

City Council President Debbie DeMaria read a poem, “The Dash,” by Linda Ellis, that she said gave her solace after the death of her son in 2011. “Dash” refers to the punctuation on tombstones between death and birth, and Ellis used it as a metaphor for how we live our lives. The poem “is so meaningful to me,” DeMaria said. She asked attendees to consider their own “dash.”

Malden High School graduate and college student Alyssa Ardai said, “To my non-Jewish community: We know that you too are deeply affected by the situation. Our Malden community is diverse. We know that our diversity does not stop us from getting along. Thank you for standing with us. Thank you for sharing our desire to live in a peaceful world where people get along. Thank you for being our friends.” Ardai is the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor on one side of her family and the granddaughter of an American soldier who helped liberate a concentration camp on the other.

Remedi-Brown urged the attendees to remember recent history – such as the 2015 slaughter at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and last year’s “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted in a death of a counter-protester. But she also urged attendees to not give in to the fear that would cause us to retreat within, and instead to see one another and stand in solidarity against violence against any of us.

The day’s events, which featured musical selections from cantorial soloist Phyllis Werlin who also led people in singing, “Let there be peace on earth,” concluded at noon with a festive kiddush (reception meal).

The special service and reception meal was organized Paula Z. Sack, President of Congregation Agudas Achim-Ezrath Israel, working closely with Human Services Director Karen Colón Hayes, representing the City of Malden.

“It was good to be together,” said Remedi-Brown. “In the words of a popular Hebrew song based on Psalm 133:1, ‘In this moment, we were able to behold how good it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together as one.'”

Article by Stephanie Schorow, with assistance from Lori Ardai and Fern Remedi-Brown. All photos by Nichole Mossalam.

Below is an edited clip from the service. The full service can be viewed here and will also be run on the MATV Public Access Channel (Comcast 3, Verizon 28 in Malden).

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