Vigil for the Tree of Life Synagogue

My name is Chris Buice and I am minister of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. In a world of anti-semitism I consider myself to be a pro-semite. Looking around me I can see I am not alone, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, people of all faiths, however, tonight we are all members of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.


To the anti-semites of our nation we say America would not be America without the voice of Barbara Streisand, the music of George Gershwin, the humor of Jon Stewart, the magic of Houdini, the architecture of Frank Gehry, the films of Stephen Spielberg, the science of Albert Einstein, the plays of Arthur Miller, the journalism of Barbara Walters, the activism of Gloria Steinem and the conscience of Elie Wiesel.

Since the motives of the shooter were his opposition to the efforts of Jewish groups to work for immigration reform and to support refuges let me say this – America would be a better country if Anne Frank had been able to make it through our broken immigration system. American would be a much better country if the hundreds of passengers on the SS Saint Louis had been able to find safe harbor in our country.

For America would not be America without the poetry of Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free.”

10 years ago there was a shooting in my church, a hate crime, where 2 people were killed and 8 others injured. Members of the Knoxville Jewish Community were quick to respond. Rabbi Schwartz and a crew of people showed up with casseroles. Love walked in the door. There was standing room only at an interfaith service held at 2nd Presbyterian with many people standing outside in the rain to show support for our church during that tragic time. At some point someone decided to do a “roll call” to see what faiths were present in that service, “Are there any Muslims in the house?” Hands went up. “Are there any Catholics in the house?” Hands went up. “Are there any members of the Jewish community here tonight?” and a voice shouted out from down the hall, “We’re in the kitchen!”

And this is true, you were there feeding us in body and spirit. You brought us casseroles and tonight we brought you candle holders. And so I can say America would not be America and Knoxville would not be Knoxville without the conscience and casseroles of the Knoxville Jewish community.

Tonight we grieve. Tonight we pray. Tonight we support each other. Tomorrow we vote. Tomorrow we take action. Tomorrow we organize. Many of us were trained to do just that in this building (the Arnstein Jewish Community Center. ) We were trained to be upstanders not bystanders; to stand up to hate, bias, bigotry and racism. For as the Gates of Prayer, a prayer book found in synagogues across this country, tells us, “Pray like everything depends on God but act as if everything depends on you.” Tonight we pray. Tomorrow we do God’s work.

(These words were given by the Reverend Chris Buice at the Knoxville Vigil for the Tree of Life Synagogue sponsored by the Knoxville Jewish Alliance on Monday, October 29, 2018)

3 thoughts on “Vigil for the Tree of Life Synagogue

  1. I wept as I read the full transcript of your words offered at the vigil for The Tree of Life Synagogue…
    I am filled with gratitude and love for you, Reverend Chris Buice. Diana Ritter


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