Standing before the 1,000 attendees of the last of the 11 Tree of Life victims’ funerals, Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers referred to Rev. Eric S.C. Manning as “an angel.”
“I don’t know how many of you believe in angels,” Myers, rabbi of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, said at the Nov. 2 funeral of Rose Mallinger. “But an angel visited me this morning. My tank, I don’t think it’s even running on fumes — the fumes have already dissipated — [and] an angel came to me this morning to give me courage and strength.”
Manning is the pastor of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., where nine people were brutally murdered by a white supremacist gunman in 2015. After an interfaith vigil Oct. 28 at the Charleston Holocaust Memorial, Manning decided to reach out to his counterpart at Tree of Life, leading to the Friday visit with his wife.
The pastor, he explained in an interview following the Mallinger funeral, felt as though Myers needed support.
“I did not want Rabbi Myers to feel as if he was alone,” said Manning. Additionally, “when you reflect upon the amount of outpouring that the communicating world showed Mother Emanuel, we must also then provide that same level of outpouring to others who are in their time of need, in their time of grief.”
Myers’ story is well known to those following the Tree of Life tragedy. A survivor and witness to the attack, he has been responsible for presiding over seven funerals in four days, and has also been on hand to officiate at shiva services and comfort the grieving, all betwixt welcoming the president of the United States and operating under the incessant attention of national media.
Manning said he understood Myers’ many dilemmas, particularly how best to balance a congregation’s healing with one’s own.
Achieving equilibrium is “easier said than done, which is why I wanted to be here for Rabbi Myers,” said Manning. “It’s hard to take care of yourself. Sometimes your own personal needs get a backseat and you have to find the proper balance. … God has a way of raising up his servant leaders for such a time as this.”
For Manning, family provided strength and stability in dark days.
“I am thankful I have my wife with me and our children,” he said. “They serve as that reenergizing base that I need from time to time.”
A day after the Tree of Life attack, Myers reflected on how he was dealing with his own emotions.
“Lots of people have been asking me that,” he said in an interview. “I’ve got a wonderful family and a wonderful congregation who keep asking me that. I’ve probably compartmentalized it to the extent that I will take care of myself as needed, but there are bigger needs right now than the needs of one.”
Manning said healing can take time.
“This is still your time for grief. This is still your time for mourning,” he said. “When you deal with trauma such as this there is no timetable. It sometimes won’t happen within a week, and sometimes won’t happen within a month, and sometimes it won’t happen within a year, but as a community you have the permission to grieve for as long as you need, and in your grieving period your healing begins.”
Manning had a message for the entire Jewish community in Pittsburgh.
“Just know that we are here for you,” he said of his congregation, although he could have also been speaking for people throughout the world. “And if we cannot be here physically, we will always be here spiritually — but we will do our best to be here physically as much as we possibly can.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.