More than 200 community members gathered together for an interfaith service at Union Chapel on Sunday that reflected on and remembered the nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. who were killed on June 17. The tragedy relit the dialogue on racism in America and the response afterword succeeded in bringing down the Confederate flag that flew over South Carolina’s statehouse.

Rabbi Caryn Broitman of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center called for “White America to engage in a process of teshuva.” Teshuva is the Jewish practice of repentance through confession, apology, paying reparations and restitutions, and then changing behavior.

Dr. Sarah Sayeed spoke about ways that discrimination is ingrained in society. — Jeanna Shepard

She applauded Bree Newsome’s act of climbing the 30-foot flagpole outside the South Carolina state house to remove the Confederate flag, Rep. Jenny Horne’s impassioned speech against the flag, and the families of the deceased for their ability to forgive,

Rabbi Broitman ended by praying for continued strength for those fighting for social justice, a change of heart for those who hold onto hate and “for the strength to come out of the cave and do the process of repentance that we as a country need to do.”

Dr. Sarah Sayeed, who works as senior advisor in the community affairs unit of the mayor’s office in New York city, spoke of the human condition to “forget the divine, and tend to see other humans as objects here to serve us and not to serve God.”

Dr. Sayeed reminded worshipers that by placing any one group, race or gender over another, “we demonstrate nothing but our arrogance.” She spoke about ways that discrimination has become ingrained in American society through segregation of neighborhoods, the act of placing blame on the poor for needing food stamps, and policies that make asking for assistance difficult.

Rabbi Broitman greeted the congregation after the ceremony. — Jeanna Shepard

“Our diversity is a divinely given asset but we made it into a liability,” she said.

Rev. Deborah Finley-Jackson serves on staff at St. Mark AME Church School in Jackson Heights, Queens. She began by reading a passage from Mark, the same passage those at the Bible study in Charleston were studying when they were killed. She also commended the forgiveness that the families of the deceased showed when they spoke about forgiving the murderer.

“These families from Charleston, S.C. decided that young man, that killer, was their neighbor,” she said, adding that they made her feel proud to be a Christian.

Reverend Finley-Jackson also warned the congregation not to let Charleston slip from their minds, and that if the nation can engage in a real conversation about the explicit and implicit racism in this country, the victims will not have died in vain.

“I’ve heard that the 11 o’clock hour, the church hour, is the most segregated hour in the United States,” she added. “Here, we say ‘no,’” she implored.

She closed the ceremony by reading out the names of the victims of the massacre.

Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson.