Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Rabbi Hazzan Myers, survivor of ‘18 synagogue shooting, to open Interfaith Lecture Series approach to resilience theme



On the morning of Oct. 27, 2018, as Shabbat services took place, a gunman opened fire on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people. 

Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers was there. 

“In the aftermath of the massacre … Myers has stood out for his indefatigable moral clarity and inspired spiritual leadership,” wrote Michael Weis, a friend of Myers, in a November 2018 post on Cantors Assembly.

Myers will present his lecture, “A Ticket to Ride: The Roller Coaster of Resilience,” at 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 23 in the Amphitheater. It is the first of three Interfaith Lectures for Week Nine, the final week of the season, dedicated, as is the Chautauqua Lecture Series, to the theme of “Resilience.”

“Resilience is a characteristic of humanity and all of nature that ensures continuity of life — a virtue among virtues to be prized and practiced to create a future,” said Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno. “It is important to celebrate this essential characteristic this week, as we recognize what we as a community, and indeed as a world people, are living and must continue to value.”

Before moving to Pittsburgh in 2017, Myers spent decades in ministry in New Jersey and Long Island. He also earned a master’s degree in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary. 

“The ability to manage and administrate and act in a politically savvy manner, all the while placing his ego in check and putting the welfare of his community members first is the hallmark of a great clergy person, no matter the title of rabbi or cantor,” Weis wrote. 

Myers’ words following the shooting, the worst attack on the Jewish community in United States history, left an imprint and offered healing, Weis said. 

“They floated through the air with grace and reached our ears with unparalleled perfection in the moment of need,” he wrote for Cantors Assembly. “By his words, the cries for hope were heeded; the need for healing was attended; the prayer for peace was delivered and the promise of a tomorrow void of hate was handed over to the collective whole through his words, both penned and uttered.”

In a November 2018 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tree of Life Rabbi Emeritus Alvin Berkun described Myers as “America’s rabbi,” but Myers, in the same article, said it was never about him.

“It’s about hate,” Myers said in the article. “How tragic it was that people without an ounce of hate had hate inflicted on them.”

He then called for the shooting to be a watershed moment.

“As easily as we spew hate, we also can spew love,” he said. “To me, if that can begin to happen, then the deaths of these 11 people will not be in vain. If there’s no change whatsoever, then it confirms our worst fears about the path we’re heading down, and it’s the wrong path.”

In 2018, Myers received an honorary doctoral degree in Jewish music from the Jewish Theological Seminary. In 2019, he was one of three recipients of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Medal of Valor.

“Medals of Valor were given out to those who exemplify the good deeds of outstanding individuals who honor mankind and whose courage and bravery shine a light in the darkest of places,” said a press release issued by the Center. “Myers’ medal had the inscription, ‘He who saves a single life, it is as if he saved an entire world.’ ”

Looking at this week and today’s lecture, Rovegno said resilience answers the question of what drives people to keep going despite all of life’s challenges. 

“The Jewish people have been resilient for millennia,” she said. “In our time, resilience now uniquely defines the congregation that Myers leads.”

Tags : interfaith lecture seriesinterfaith previewopenerRabbi Hazzan Jeffrey MyersResilienceShabbatTree of Life synagogue survivorweek nine

The author Max Zambrano

Max Zambrano is a recent Western Kentucky University graduate in his first season at Chautauqua. At WKU, he served as editor-in-chief of the Talisman magazine and website, majored in political science and minored in journalism writing. Max has traveled to Australia and Morocco, and he hopes to visit all 50 states (28 to go). This summer, he will report on interfaith lectures and sacred song services. Let him know if you want to play backgammon on Bestor Plaza.