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Anonymous, scrawled words of love touch Modesto’s Jewish community

A note of support left anonymously on a bench at Congregation Beth Shalom on Sherwood Avenue in Modesto, Calif. is pictured Monday November 5, 2018.
A note of support left anonymously on a bench at Congregation Beth Shalom on Sherwood Avenue in Modesto, Calif. is pictured Monday November 5, 2018. gstapley@modbee.com

It was a simple, anonymous note, appearing on a bench early Saturday morning at the local synagogue in Modesto. But its message of caring is huge, and timely.

“I am not Jewish, but want to support and love my fellow man,” says the note, scrawled on the back side of a ripped page of smog check results and weighted down with small, smooth pebbles. It’s dated Nov. 3, the one-week anniversary of a shooting that left 11 people dead at a Pittsburgh synagogue, the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in North American history.

“I believe stones are a way of showing love and respect in your religion, I hope I’m not being offensive,” continues the note, reflecting a timeless Jewish tradition of leaving stones at gravesites. “My heart and soul are heavy for you. Human beings need to love one another.”

The unknown author signed off with a simple heart, followed by the words, “May your days be blessed. Love — A fellow human being with love.”

Joyce Gandelman may have been the first to spy the note on a bench next to a side entrance of Congregation Beth Shalom, near a parking lot, when she arrived to prepare for Saturday services. It hadn’t been there the night before, when a sizable crowd of congregants and friends attended the Solidarity Shabbat, a gathering of support held at venues everywhere in response to the Oct. 27 massacre.

“We decided to leave (the note) there,” said Gandelman, vice president of the congregation’s board of directors. And there it stayed, as people came and went for Saturday’s Torah study class and Shabbat services, and through Sunday’s Hebrew School and an evening concert with opera tenor Chris Pucci.

“It’s a heartfelt note,” said Tina Arnopole Driskill. “People who came to the concert saw it and everyone was moved, whether Jewish or not.”

Modesto’s Jewish community had been touched by standing-room-only support of people attending a vigil at the synagogue only a day after the tragedy in Pittsburgh. Someone later left a bouquet of daisies and sunflowers with a nice card at Congregation Beth Shalom, and another noncongregant sent money, an “unexpected” but appreciated gesture, Gandelman said.

Pictures of the simple note now grace Congregation Beth Shalom’s Facebook page.

“Beautiful,” wrote Mary K. Byers in a comment. “This is my America!”

Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390

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