They stood hugging, a rabbi and an AME minister, two men of God united by the bloodshed of earthly hatreds.

Beneath their feet, in the fellowship hall of Charleston's Emanuel AME Church, nine black worshipers died in June 2015 when a gunman opened fire during their Bible study, killing them because they were black. 

About 700 miles north, in Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue, an antisemitic gunman killed 11 worshipers less than three months ago during their Shabbat morning services, simply because they were Jewish.

Rabbi Jonathan Perlman leads New Light Congregation, one of three synagogues that met at Tree of Life. He survived the massacre and journeyed to Charleston this weekend with 10 members of his congregation and an ecumenical group that studies Proverbs together back home. 

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Members of Emanuel AME pray and lay hands on members visiting from New Light Congregation, one of the congregations from the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg where 11 died in a mass shooting last fall during a service ofunity Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

On Friday, he stood at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, a local Reform congregation, with Emanuel shooting survivor Polly Sheppard. 

On Sunday, he stood in a mass of sorrow at Emanuel's altar rail hugging its senior pastor, the Rev. Eric S.C. Manning. Church members came forward from their pews to wrap him and his group in a sea of hugs, tears and shared understanding.

Along with Perlman stood Carol Black, a fellow survivor of the synagogue shooting. She hid in a closet while a gunman killed her brother, 65-year-old Richard Gottfried, a beloved dentist. Gottfried's wife, who organized the trip to Charleston, joined them. So did Gottfried's twin sister, Debi Salvin, who celebrated her first birthday without him precisely one week earlier.

Three of the 11 people who died inside Tree of Hope were members of New Light.

The group came to Charleston for the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend to offer a show of unity and celebration of the man who preached a love of all people before the eyes of God. 

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Members of Emanuel AME pray and lay hands on members visiting from New Light Congregation, one of the congregations from the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg where 11 died in a mass shooting last fall during a service ofunity Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

"He's really a prophet for our time," Beth Kissileff Perlman, the rabbi's wife, said. "I'm sad in 2019 that Jews and African Americans are united by having been slaughtered in their houses of worship in the United States of America. We share many bonds and, unfortunately, this is one of them." 

Manning, who flew to Pittsburgh to comfort synagogue members shortly after the mass shooting there, used his sermon on Sunday to implore people to love one another during divisive times. To do so, he referenced a revered line from one one of King's own sermons:

"Let no man pull you so low as to hate him."

Manning urged those on hand to "love thy neighbor" and promised the visitors from New Light that Emanuel's congregation will support them as they move through the challenges of healing from such horrific violence and loss. 

"God promises that he will never leave us alone," Manning said. "From this congregation, from the depths of our hearts, you are not alone. We will be there."

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Carol Black, center, sister of Richard Gottfried, who was killed in the shooting at the New Light Congregation synagogue in Pittsburg is embraced by members of Emanuel AME during a service of unity Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Contact Jennifer Hawes at 843-937-5563. Follow her on Twitter @jenberryhawes.

Jennifer Berry Hawes is a member of the Watchdog and Public Service team who worked on the newspaper's Pulitzer-Prize winning investigation, "Till Death Do Us Part."

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