Vigil honors those who died in synagogue shooting
CHELTENHAM >> A crowd of more than 1,500 people packed Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel Oct. 28 for an interfaith prayer vigil for the 11 people who died at a Pittsburgh synagogue during Shabbat services Oct. 27.
Prayers were chanted and songs in Hebrew and English filled the sanctuary. Some of those assembled shed tears, and others were simply saddened and in shock. Many sent donations to the Pittsburgh Jewish community or signed condolence cards in the synagogue lobby. The names and ages of the victims were read and a bell rung.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro spoke, saying that the previous night he stood with more than a thousand in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh for the prayer service that marks the end of the Jewish Sabbath and heard the sorry of that community. Unimaginably, one of the 11 people who died during the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue was a 97-year-old woman who had survived the Holocaust, he said.
Shapiro quoted the Talmud, saying if someone saves a life, it is as if he saved the world.
“Law enforcement in Pittsburgh saved many souls,” said Shapiro. “We owe them a sincere debt of gratitude. We pray for the three officers who were wounded. They were heroes.” “The violence against the Tree of Life community was an assault on the liberties our country and our commonwealth were founded to protect,” said Shapiro. “Yesterday congregants were to celebrate the covenant of a baby with God during Shabbat services. That attack took place in a house of worship where congregants seek safety and spirituality.
“The killer attempted to intimidate people of faith and, of course, we know that will never
succeed,” he said. “Our covenant with God will endure, and no killer can break that bond, no bullet can pierce our faith.”
Other victims included a husband and wife, siblings and those family members left grieving. People are left to grapple with the aftermath.
“Look for the helpers,” he said, quoting PBS childrens’ TV performer Mr. Rogers, who hailed from the Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh. “When I saw so many helpers in his old neighborhood … and I know there are helpers in every corner of this commonwealth. … Now is the time for all of us to help and to heal.”
“What we do know now more than ever is leaders must speak with moral clarity,” Shapiro said, and the crowd applauded. “To be sure this killer was deranged, but he had an audience. He had cheerleaders. And enablers. We must condemn that culture. Left unchecked, we will inevitably experience more horror. Understand this friends: hate speech begets hate crimes.”
The audience again applauded.
He called for civil discourse.
“If you see something, get up and say something,” Shapiro said to more applause. “We should all agree to turn down the rhetoric. Turn down the temperature of our rhetoric. Turn down the temperature of our posts. And not reward the politicians that appeal to the lowest common denominator.”
He talked about prejudice toward those who are different and said, “We must act in our schools, in our churches, our mosques and in our timelines. We are in this together.”
He called on the people to do the “hard work to heal” and not to be afraid.
“Let us leave in solidarity,” Shapiro said. “Let us stand with one another and with common purpose: to stand up to hate and to draw strength from our common God and most importantly to draw strength from one another.”
Shapiro received a standing ovation.
Another speaker compared the killing at the Tree of Life to when his greatgrandfather had died when a Nazi death squad came to his small village in the Ukraine and burned the synagogue down where he was inside praying.
The audience filed somberly out into the cold fall night. Several people said they were glad that they came to be together to mourn and vowed to work to make the world a better place.