Religious leaders join to condemn violence

Victims near and far recalled at Passover

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As they included bitter herbs and saltwater in their otherwise celebratory Passover meals to symbolize the tearful bitterness of slavery, local Jewish communities marked the start of Passover with mixed emotions amid the news of tragic violence near and far.

Close to 200 people gathered at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside to mark the first night of the weeklong Passover observances with a seder, or ritual meal that recounts the biblical account of the ancient Israelites' deliverance from slavery. And as they did so, and as many Jews gathered in homes and other settings for seders, other Pittsburgh religious leaders were adding their voices in condemning the violence and offering condolences to victims.

Before the meal at Rodef Shalom, Rabbi Aaron Bisno alluded to the stabbings at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville last week, and the slayings Sunday of three people at Jewish centers just outside Kansas City. And members at Rodef Shalom, which has a sister-congregation relationship with a synagogue in Kiev, also said a prayer for those in Ukraine amid its standoff with Russia.

"Passover at its heart is a story about the fact that the world is not yet the way we hope it to be," Rabbi Bisno said. "The events of Murrysville and Kansas City just in these last days remind us of that reality, that life is infinitely precious and also precarious, which is why it matters so much how we treat one another, that we care for one another and that we recognize that irrespective of that which distinguishes us from one another, we share a common humanity and an inherent divinity."

As police continue their search for a motive in the Murrysville attacks, in which a teenage student is being held, authorities in Kansas plan murder and hate-crime charges against Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., 73, of Aurora, Mo.

Cross, who reportedly had Ku Klux Klan links and shouted a Nazi slogan after the shooting spree Sunday, is charged with killing three at a Jewish Community Center and nearby Jewish retirement home in Overland Park, Kan.

Religious leaders, noting that this week marks not only Passover but the start of the Christian Holy Week, said they were sickened by news of the murders.

"While our whole nation is in mourning, it was doubly painful for those of us in Southwestern Pennsylvania who are still reeling from the shock of the stabbings of students at Franklin Regional High School last week," said Bishop David Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh in a statement. "I pray for their healing in body, mind and spirit."

The Rev. Liddy Barlow, executive director of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, which represents 26 area church bodies, sent "our deepest condolences and prayers" to all those grieving the Kansas tragedy and to "those everywhere who are fearing for their safety in its aftermath."

While authorities believe Cross was targeting Jews, the victims turned out to be Catholic and Methodist.

That, she said, recalls the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s words that "we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality."

Peter Smith: or 412-263-1416; Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.

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