Interfaith communal gathering calls attention to immigrants and refugees

Interfaith communal gathering calls attention to immigrants and refugees

Rabbi Keren Gorban, of Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill, recites biblical verses. Photo by Adam Reinherz
Rabbi Keren Gorban, of Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill, recites biblical verses. Photo by Adam Reinherz

Members of Pittsburgh’s faith-based groups met at St. Benedict the Moor Church in the city’s Hill District to offer prayers, stories and songs in support of communal unity Monday. The event, “Becoming One Standing Together,” featured remarks from faith leaders encouraging attendees to rise above the divisiveness so common today.

“For humanity, for the community to be successful, we need to help one another,” said Imam Abdul Wajid of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh in Oakland.

“By helping other people you are helping yourself,” echoed Mehta Gurdial of Pittsburgh Sikh Gurdwara in Monroeville.

Much of the event’s emphasis was placed on welcoming refugees. Several personal stories were shared by those who had arrived in the United States from distressed areas throughout the world.

Khara Timsina, originally of Bhutan, described how he was one of 130,000 people forced into exile.

“Nothing has been so painful as the moment when I was forced to leave my country,” said Timsina to the nearly 150 attendees. “Hope for a better life emerged when the U.S. government agreed to resettle us. … Thank you America for giving me a new life.”

Apart from offering praise, several speakers utilized their public remarks for calls to action.

“I came here to ask you to help me and all immigrants. We just want a home, a place to call home and to be safe,” said Shayla Esquivel Brigido, a student at Brashear High School.

Jamie Gibson, senior rabbi of Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill, employed the music of Debbie Friedman, a 20th-century American singer/songwriter of Jewish songs and melodies, to unify the diverse crowd. However, before generating rhythmic applause from those seated within the wooden pews, Gibson explained that though the music stems from Friedman, the original credit for the verse, “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy,” belongs to the biblical King David.

Rabbi Keren Gorban, also of Temple Sinai, followed by invoking a call for welcoming refugees when reciting verses 33 and 34 from Chapter 19 of Leviticus: “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not do him wrong. The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Moving forward, there are steps to be taken in dealing with the question of refugees, explained Reverend Linda Theophilus, of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Eastmont. “We all need to go out and be active, be a friend, advocate, donate [and] get involved.”   

This issue is much larger than the boundaries of the commonwealth, she added.

Joining those in attendance were Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh City Councilman Dan Gilman.

The strength of diversity was a continual theme.

“This is critical for the continuing vibrancy of our country to involve people of all backgrounds,” said Gorban.

“Just as we were accepted as immigrants we open our arms to immigrants around the world,” added Gibson.

The event, which Bishop David Zubik of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, called a multicultural, multi-religious service, was “important” to support, said Skip Grinberg, former chair of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. “It’s important to bring people of different faiths together and to show support for one another and respect toward one another.”

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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