Shab­bat ser­vice hon­ors Pitts­burgh shoot­ing vic­tims

Syn­a­gogue ser­vice in Wal­dorf also marks 80th an­niver­sary of Nazi ‘Night of Bro­ken Glass’ in 1938 Europe

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By PAUL LAGASSE pla­gasse@somd­ Twit­ter: @PaulIndyNews

Con­gre­ga­tion Sha’are Shalom in Wal­dorf in­vited the pub­lic to at­tend a sol­i­dar­ity ser­vice Fri­day evening to re­mem­ber the lives lost in the mass shoot­ing at the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh on Oct. 27, in which 11 peo­ple were killed and seven in­jured.

The cer­e­mony also fea­tured an eye­wit­ness ac­count of the two-day-long Nazi pogrom against Jews known as Kristall­nacht, or the “Night of Bro­ken Glass,” which took place 80 years ago this month.

Con­gre­ga­tion mem­bers, who come from all three South­ern Mary­land coun­ties, had to set up chairs in the foyer to ac­com­mo­date all the at­ten­dees, which filled the con­gre­ga­tion’s hall on Henry Ford Cir­cle.

Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice deputies in plain clothes were on hand to pro­vide se­cu­rity, re­flec­tive of ten­sions that are on the rise in Jewish con­gre­ga­tions around the coun­try fol­low­ing the shoot­ing.

Con­gre­ga­tion mem­ber Rachel Solomon opened the shab­bat, a cer­e­mony mark­ing the tra­di­tional day of rest, with a poignant ren­di­tion of “Etz Chayim,” which trans­lates as “Tree of Life.” Con­gre­ga­tion pres­i­dent Elaine McVin­ney then wel­comed mem­bers of the com­mu­nity and thanked them for their pres­ence.

“It takes courage to walk into some­one else’s place of wor­ship with peo­ple you’ve never met and stand by in sup­port, know­ing that these may not be your tra­di­tions, but al­low­ing oth­ers the free­dom to pray in peace and fol­low the cus­toms of our an­ces­tors,” McVin­ney said.

Jasha Leven­son, the con­gre­ga­tion’s ed­u­ca­tion chair, led the shab­bat ser­vice, oc­ca­sion­ally paus­ing to ex­plain terms and cus- toms that might be un­fa­mil­iar to the non-Jews in at­ten­dance and at one point call­ing on chil­dren in the au­di­ence to re­late the mean­ing of a story.

Leven­son ex­plained that the con­gre­ga­tion’s name, “Sha’are Shalom,” trans­lates to “Gates of Peace.” The con­gre­ga­tion has 50 fam­i­lies, many of which are in­ter­faith.

“Whether your fa­vorite prophet is Moses, Je­sus or Mo­hammed, whether you be­lieve in one God, many gods or none at all, you are wel­come here tonight as we stand sideby-side in sol­i­dar­ity, com­mit­ted to liv­ing in peace and ap­pre­ci­at­ing our dif­fer­ences,” Leven­son said.

“We are also here to stand in sol­i­dar­ity with the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh and with all Amer­i­cans as we mourn the sense­less loss of life that oc­curred dur­ing a shab­bat ser­vice and nam­ing cer­e­mony less than a week ago,” Leven­son said.

The Tree of Life shoot­ings are be­lieved to be the na­tion’s dead­li­est at­tack against Jews in its his­tory. The per­pe­tra­tor has been charged with com­mit­ting fed­eral hate-crime of­fenses and could face the death penalty.

Ellen Co­hen, a long­time con­gre­ga­tion mem­ber, re­counted wit­ness­ing the ran­sack­ing of her syn­a­gogue and school in Lud­wigs­burg, near Stuttgart, in Novem­ber 1938 dur­ing Kristall­nacht, an orgy of vi­o­lence dur­ing which Nazis looted and de­stroyed nearly 300 Jewish syn­a­gogues as well as count­less busi­nesses, hos­pi­tals and schools through­out Ger­many and Aus­tria.

Co­hen said that one of her un­cles ran a shoe fac­tory in Lud­wigs­burg, and an­other owned a de­part­ment store, and three of the town’s Jewish res­i­dents served as fire­men.

After the Nazis seized power, they pro­hib­ited Jews from work­ing in the govern­ment or teach­ing. Co­hen re­called that her fa­ther was even pro­hib­ited from vis­it­ing his fa­vorite base­ment bar, or raths­kel­ler, where he loved to spend time rem­i­nisc­ing with veterans of the war.

Then, on the morn­ing of Nov. 10, 1938, as she pre­pared to board a train to at­tend the Jewish day school in Stuttgart, Co­hen re­called, “the phone rang at 7:10 a.m. and a voice urged my mother to stop the chil­dren from get­ting on the train to Stuttgart. My mother, with her apron still on … ran to the sta­tion to find that our train had al­ready de­parted. The sta­tion mas­ter, whose wife had cleaned house for us for many years un­til the Aryan laws pro­hib­ited it, promised to tele­graph the Stuttgart sta­tion and ask that the chil­dren be sent back. But we never got the mes­sage.”

As she and her friends neared their school, Co­hen re­called, “we saw a tremen­dous com­mo­tion.”

“The Stuttgart syn­a­gogue, ad­ja­cent to our school, was in flames,” she said. “Spec­ta­tors started shov­ing us to the cen­ter of the ac­tion so that we wouldn’t miss the spec­ta­cle of the burn­ing build­ing, the sound of the stained-glass win­dows pop­ping in the heat, the strug­gle of the school prin­ci­pal try­ing to get in to save some of the To­rah.”

“Just when we thought the world was com­ing to an end, two nuns from a nearby Catholic school ap­proached us, even though such kind­ness en­dan­gered them, and hur­ried us back to the train sta­tion to re­turn to Lud­wigs­burg,” Co­hen said.

But upon re­turn­ing to their town, the chil­dren found that the vi­o­lence had spread there, too. Nazis van­dal­ized Jewish busi­nesses and burned the town’s syn­a­gogue, and the Gestapo, the Nazi se­cret po­lice, rounded up mem­bers of the town’s Jewish com­mu­nity to trans­port them to con­cen­tra­tion camps.

Co­hen’s fa­ther was among a group of peo­ple who were taken by the Gestapo to the lo­cal jail, where the war­den — a fel­low vet­eran — warned him covertly to leave Ger­many as soon as he pos­si­bly could.

Leven­son said that Jewish con­gre­ga­tions con­tinue to tell sto­ries like Co­hen’s, as well as those of other events like the shoot­ing in Pitts­burgh, be­cause “they do not hap­pen out of nowhere.”

“They stem from mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns that have been passed down through gen­er­a­tions and gen­er­ate hate and mis­trust rather than tol­er­ance and ac­cep­tance for our neigh­bors who are dif­fer­ent from us,” Leven­son said.

“We must learn to ap­pre­ci­ate our dif­fer­ences and to sup­port oth­ers in their own pur­suits of hap­pi­ness, even when their paths are dif­fer­ent from our own,” he said.

Prior to the ser­vice, an anony­mous res­i­dent left a bou­quet of flow­ers and a can­dle by the front door of Con­gre­ga­tion Sha’are Shalom’s syn­a­gogue along with a note.

“I’m so sorry,” the note said.


Jasha Leven­son, ed­u­ca­tion com­mit­tee chair at Con­gre­ga­tion Sha’are Shalom in Wal­dorf, re­minds at­ten­dees at Fri­day’s shab­bat ser­vice that “[w]e must learn to ap­pre­ci­ate our dif­fer­ences and to sup­port oth­ers in their own pur­suits of hap­pi­ness, even when their paths are dif­fer­ent from our own.”

Shab­bat can­dles burn dur­ing the ser­vice on Fri­day.

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