‘Healing ser­vice’ held out­side syn­a­gogue

About 100 peo­ple gather for prayers, songs in mem­ory of 11 shoot­ing vic­tims

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Nation - By Ramesh San­tanam A S S O C I AT E D P R E S S

PITTS­BURGH — Par­ents clutched their chil­dren, cou­ples leaned on each other and by­standers wept as about 100 peo­ple gath­ered in a steady driz­zle out­side the des­e­crated Tree of Life syn­a­gogue for what a for­mer rabbi called a healing ser­vice one week af­ter the worst at­tack tar­get­ing Jews in U.S. his­tory.

Rabbi Chuck Di­a­mond led a ser­vice of prayers, songs and poetry and rem­i­nisced about some of the wor­ship­pers killed, as Show Up For Shab­bat ser­vices honor­ing the 11 dead and six wounded were held at syn­a­gogues across the United States.

“I al­most ex­pected Ce­cil to greet me this morn­ing,” Di­a­mond said of Ce­cil Rosen­thal, 59, killed along with his brother, David, 54, in the Oct. 27 shoot­ing at Tree of Life syn­a­gogue in the city’s Squir­rel Hill neigh­bor­hood.

Di­a­mond called the vic­tims “an­gels given to us, full of love and life.”

In the past week, peo­ple told him of wed­dings, bar mitz­vahs and other cer­e­monies they’ve held at the syn­a­gogue.

“This is a place, a build­ing that has stood for joy, but now it is for­ever stained,” Di­a­mond said. But the shoot­ing “can­not over­shadow (that) this build­ing is and will be in- to the fu­ture a place of joy.”

He said he took great com­fort in see­ing peo­ple of all faiths come to­gether since the shoot­ing and for his prayer vigil Satur­day.

“It’s im­por­tant to come and take care of your com­mu­nity when some­thing like this hap­pens. I want to be in sol­i­dar­ity,” said An­drew Al­li­son, who at­tended Satur­day’s ser­vice.

Sandy Hook out­reach

Be­fore com­ing to the out­door ser­vice, Steve Ir­win, 59, and a friend stopped by a Squir­rel Hill cof­fee shop.

“When we went to pay, we were told all the cof­fee was paid for by the Sandy Hook com­mu­nity,” re­fer­ring to New­town, Conn., where a gun­man killed 26 peo­ple at Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School in 2012.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” Ir­win said, stand­ing out­side Tree of Life on Satur­day with his dog. “It shows how in­cum­bent it is upon us to pay it for­ward to the next com­mu­nity this hap­pens, which we hope never hap­pens, but we know it will hap­pen.”

The out­door ser­vice “gives you a sense of nor­malcy, which is im­pos­si­ble to find right now,” he said.

Mean­while, the pews were packed at Cen­tral Syn­a­gogue in New York City, where Jews and non-Jews alike gath­ered for a spe­cial Show Up for Shab­bat ser­vice.

“It’s such a tragedy that hap­pened in Pitts­burgh, and I was touched by the call­ing of the Jewish com­mu­nity to wel­come nonJews into their syn­a­gogues to­day, so I couldn’t re­sist and I came,” said Steven Kent, an Epis­co­palian. “It was a won­der­ful feel­ing.”

The sus­pect, Robert Bow­ers, 46, pleaded not guilty Thurs­day to fed­eral charges that could re­sult in a death sen­tence. He was ar­raigned on a 44-count in­dict­ment charg­ing him with mur­der, hate crimes, ob­struct­ing the prac­tice of re­li­gion and other crimes.

“This is not a Jewish prob­lem, al­though Jews were tar­geted. This is a hu­man prob­lem,” said Rev. Lee Clark, a re­tired Pres­by­te­rian pas­tor who took part in Satur­day’s ser­vice out­side the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue. “The only way to con­front hate is to face it with love.”

Per­sonal rec­ol­lec­tions

About half a mile away at Con­gre­ga­tion Beth Shalom, wor­ship­pers, in­clud­ing sev­eral mem­bers of Tree of Life, gath­ered for Shab­bat ser­vices.

They hon­ored Augie Siri­ano, 59, the 25-year Tree of Life cus­to­dian, who wit­nessed the shoot­ing. “I had tea with Ce­cil (Rosen­thal) 10 min­utes be­fore I found him,” Siri­ano said later, wip­ing away tears.

“Augie just loved them,” said Siri­ano’s girl­friend, Rose Bat­tista.

Scott Pri­ester, 48, a Lutheran, came to Beth Shalom on Satur­day — his first Shab­bat ser­vice. “The shoot­ing rocked me to the core, more than any­thing in my per­sonal life,” he said.

Gary Fried­man, 65, called the mas­sacre “a blow, a stab to the heart.”

He had no doubt the com­mu­nity will re­cover.

“We’ll get over it,” he said. “We al­ways do. What other choice do we have?”

Keith Srako­cic / As­so­ci­ated Press

Memo­ri­als and flow­ers are stacked out­side the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue af­ter a ser­vice Satur­day. Eleven peo­ple were killed and six in­jured in a shoot­ing dur­ing ser­vices there a week ago.

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