PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Some very special guests are showing congregants at Tree of Life Synagogue that healing is both a journey and a destination.

Members of Emanuel AME Church from Charleston, S.C., traveled to Pittsburgh on Friday to join members of Tree of Life.

The Charleston congregation also dealt with a mass killing at their house of worship in 2015.

Members of Tree of Life recently traveled to Emanuel AME in Charleston in a journey of healing to uplift and support members of the community there.

Friday was their turn to come here. It’s all part of the long journey of healing, between faith communities bonded in acts of violence, committed to healing and eradicating hate and violence.

Two groups of people, who had previously never met, now share a similar journey, through heartache and pain.

“The people who understand it best are the people who’ve gone through it,” Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said.


Members of Emanuel AME Church say this long journey of healing helps break the chains of trauma caused by hate.

“We lost our sister Myra,” said Marlene Coakley Jenkins, of the Charleston church shooting. “What I realized is, a community becomes a community after something tragic like this.”

Eleven were killed inside Tree of Life in October and nine were killed inside Emanuel AME in Charleston in 2015. Both mass killings were fueled by gunmen with hate and white supremacy in their hearts.

The two faith groups say being together is a ministry of presence.

“It will let you know that as tough as it is, just hang in there because God has a purpose and a reason for everything,” said Blondelle Gadsden, from South Carolina.

In a recent trip, members of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue traveled to Charleston for church services inside their congregation where the killings once took place.

It was a moving, emotional exchange and transference of love.

As members of Emanuel AME shared in pre-Shabbat services Friday, music and prayer filled the air. The victim’s families say there is a mutual commitment to make goodness grow where evil tried taking root.

“I have made up my mind that I’m going to enjoy my life,” said Andrea Wedner, a survivor of the Tree of Life shooting. “I almost lost it and I’m not going to miss one day.”

“We can find other ways of communicating, ways that are not so heinous and hurtful, but ways of healing and restoration,” said Pastor Eric Manning of Emanuel AME Church.

Both congregations will share in morning religious services Saturday at Rodef Shalom where services for Tree of Life are currently held.

Pastor Manning from Emanuel AME will offer a guest homily.