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  • REV. SARAH PIRTLE Interfaith Minister

Faith Matters: Together in the Tree of Life

We care about each other, every one of us. Hundreds held candles this week and walked through Northampton to Congregation B’nai Israel to mourn the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Golden candle flames reflected hearts in common community, and the sanctuary overflowed. Rabbi Justin David of CBI and Rabbi Riqi of Beit Ahavah took turns reading the names of the 11 slain Pittsburgh synagogue members as we honored them.

The Tree of Life is an ancient symbol that is found worldwide representing the truth of the basic interconnection of all people. Community restoration is a spiritual force. “I awoke this morning in the deepest despair,” said a woman seated next to me, “and this gathering made all the difference.”

When terrifying events rock us, how do we become stronger than hate? We also mourned African Americans Maurice Stallard and Vickie Jones killed at a Kroger’s in Kentucky by a white man originally intent on harming the First Baptist Church. I stretch my heart wide enough to hold the full histories of harm that tear the fabric of humanity, and make a prayer to acknowledge every mistreatment so that no one is erased. I pray we join each other, as Rabbi Justin said, “at the brokenness and wholeness at the bottom of our hearts.”

The Rev. Sarah Pirtle of Shelburne Falls. Contributed photo

We don’t only have senses of smell, touch, taste. We also have broader senses that find our interconnection. As we bring individual pain into shared pain, we ignite universal source. Countless actions in Franklin County keep the branches of the Tree of Life strong.

Saturday night at Temple Israel in Greenfield, a silent auction for refugee support raised enough money to fill a shipping container. More than a hundred came to Temple Israel for a quickly gathered memorial earlier. Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener writes, “The unique and universal events in Pittsburgh did not just happen to we Jews. It happened to the hopes of many people. It continues the harm of our national dialogue. But we knew YOU would come, too. The phone calls and flowers. The hand-written notes and candles. The anguished messages of ‘What can we do to help you?’ We are not alone.”

Hope and resilience live here. We’re part of mending the web of life person to person. Dialogue is different from debate or just talking. Dialogue is listening to understand, not to change each other. This was the core of “Hands Across the Hills,” an exchange I took part in connecting people from Leverett and Kentucky. This week, Kentucky members of Hands Across the Hills have been sending condolences to Jewish members in Leverett, and an enduring memory happened on the Friday night of our spring visit when they created a surprise shabbat service.

In New Jersey at a presentation to a Center for World Religions about Hands Across the Hills, I said when we dialogue with each other, it feels like we create a golden circle of trust. Instead of a tug of war, within that golden circle we pay attention to what we exchange, staying conscious not to let blame or hate pass between us. Many participants at that presentation were Hindu. As an Interfaith Minister, I was trained to support spiritual language that fits each person. Namaste is a Hindu word that means essence, translated, “The divine in me bows to the divine in you.” Dialogue is the attitude of namaste, looking for the essence of each other.

Dialogue doesn’t just happen in formal programs but appears in many circumstances in daily life, from returning home for holidays to interactions at work and in neighborhoods. I found an answer to despair this week. Standing as a multi-faith community in the synagogue, I felt my soul revive. We are connected to the common Tree of Life.

Is there a conversation you need to have with someone — or truth that you need to tell yourself?

Rev. Sarah Pirtle is an author, musician, and diversity educator from Shelburne Falls with five books and 10 recordings. Songs are available free at Sarah Hope Sings. As an Interfaith Minister, she provides sermons, and officiates at weddings and memorials; as a national expert in conflict transformation, she leads school trainings, offers programs with the Work that Reconnects, and creates opportunities for people to build understanding.

(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email

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