On October 27, ISKCON New Vrindaban devotees in West Virginia heard of the horrific mass shooting at the Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, a 90-minute drive away from their idyllic rural community. This tragic news affirmed the timeless knowledge of the Srimad Bhagavatam, which instructs us to take shelter of the Supreme Lord in a time where “there is danger at every step” (SB10.14.58). Devotees visiting New Vrindaban often travel to and from the Pittsburgh airport, and one of the eleven victims who died in the shooting was a dentist to several devotees in Pittsburgh—reminding the ISKCON New Vrindaban community of the cruel, precarious nature of this world.
Devotees and pilgrims had been absorbed in a 24-Hour Kirtan event, chanting Krishna’s holy names to spread spiritual peace, harmony, and love, when they heard of the tragedy. Ekavira Dasa, who had been leading the Damodarastakam prayers during this holy month of Kartik, requested the devotees to offer their candles with a prayer for the victims and their families. Jaya Krishna Das, the Temple President of ISKCON New Vrindaban, wrote a heart-warming condolence letter to the Tree of Life Synagogue and the Jewish community, which was noted by the Intelligencer newspaper of Pennsylvania.
The letter is as follows:
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“Dear Brothers of God,
We are deeply saddened by the sudden tragedy that struck your community and the hearts of the supporters of the Jewish faith and advocates of universal brotherhood. It is disheartening that Anti-Semitism and hate crime are not only prevalent but also escalating in our society. We pray thatthis incident will create more awareness of religious intolerance and initiate measures to end heinous acts such as these.
The Bhagavad-gita (our sacred book of knowledge), the Torah, and other holy texts emphasize that universal brotherhood and social cohesion can only be achieved if we understand and realize that we are all one in the eyes of the same creator—as children of God we can live in peace and harmony in the world.
Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita(6.19) indicates the means to see one another as children of God, irrespective of caste, race, faith, or creed: “A true yogi observes Me [God] in all beings and also sees every being in Me. Indeed, the self-realized person sees Me, the same Supreme Lord, everywhere.” Similarly, the valuable teaching in Judaism “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus19:18) promotes unity and love. Now, more than ever, we need to flood the world with our efforts of educating people about unity in diversity, thus bringing about world peace and goodwill.
In the meantime, we are praying for the departed souls of your synagogue, whose efforts to connect with God will not go in vain. Their devotion and commitment to God’s teachings will ensure that their destination is auspicious. On Saturday at 8.30 pm, during a 24-Hour prayer vigil in which more than 200 members of our society were present, we each offered a prayer and a candle for the deceased and their families. We hope to set an example of universal love that would break all boundaries of religious intolerance and discord in the world.
With love and heartfelt condolences,
Jaya Krishna Das
(Temple President – ISKCON New Vrindaban, Moundsville, West Virginia)”