Poignant New Year for Jewish com­mu­nity scarred by massacre

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By David Crary

There will be some dif­fer­ences — and some con­stants — over the com­ing days as the New Light con­gre­ga­tion ob­serves Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, for the first time since three of its mem­bers were among 11 Jews killed by a gun­man nearly a year ago at a Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue.

The man who last year blew New Light’s sho­far, the ram’s horn trum­pet tra­di­tion­ally sounded to wel­come the High Holy Days, was among those killed. Richard Got­tfried, 65, a den­tist near­ing re­tire­ment, was one of the con­gre­ga­tion’s main­stays in read­ing the haf­tara, a biblical pas­sage that fol­lows the To­rah read­ing.

In Got­tfried’s place, the sho­far will be blown this year by the con­gre­ga­tion’s rabbi, Jonathan Perl­man. And the venue for the ser­vices will not be the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue, the site of the massacre. All three con­gre­ga­tions that shared space there have been wor­ship­ping at neigh­bor­ing syn­a­gogues since the at­tack on Oct. 27, 2018.

How­ever, Perl­man’s wife, writer Beth Kis­sileff, said the con­gre­ga­tion plans no changes in the sub­stance of its ser­vices over the two-day hol­i­day that starts Sun­day evening.

“I feel con­duct­ing Rosh Hashana prayers as we have in the past is a form of spir­i­tual re­sis­tance,” Kis­sileff said. “Part of our de­fi­ance of what the shooter was try­ing to do is to con­duct our re­li­gious lives with as much nor­mal­ity as pos­si­ble.”

A week ago, look­ing ahead to the New Year hol­i­day, Kis­sileff wrote a first-per­son ar­ti­cle for the Jewish Tele­graphic Agency de­scrib­ing how her con­gre­ga­tion was cop­ing.

Re­fer­ring to the sho­far, she said the horn’s sounds are in­tended to re­sem­ble wail­ing.

“That won’t be hard; there is plenty to wail about this year,” she wrote. “We need to hear this wail­ing, and be in­duced to wail our­selves, so that we can change.”

She also noted that many mem­bers of the con­gre­ga­tion, which num­bers about 100 fam­i­lies, deep­ened en­gage­ment in their faith and their com­mu­nity over the past year by at­tend­ing ser­vices more reg­u­larly, learn­ing or re­learn­ing the skills needed to serve as can­tors, or mak­ing an ef­fort to learn He­brew.

As Rosh Hashana ar­rives, Kis­sileff wrote, “All Amer­i­can Jews, shocked to our core at the resur­gence of vi­o­lent anti-Semitism here — a coun­try to which our an­ces­tors im­mi­grated as a haven from such things in the rest of the world — will hear the sho­far as a wail and scream.”

“How­ever, this deep trauma we have ex­pe­ri­enced also means we can and need to think about how as a com­mu­nity we can at­tempt to work through the trauma to achieve mean­ing­ful growth,” she added. “It is not un­com­pli­cated, but Rosh Hashana is com­ing, and we all have the op­por­tu­nity to be­gin again — how­ever dif­fi­cult.”

She sug­gested that sur­viv­ing mem­bers of the con­gre­ga­tion could honor those who were killed by do­ing good deeds in their name. She cited slain con­gre­ga­tion mem­ber Melvin Wax as a role model, re­call­ing his ef­forts to or­ga­nize hur­ri­cane re­lief and en­cour­age peo­ple to reg­is­ter to vote.

“Those of us who knew the peo­ple killed, we just want to honor their mem­o­ries by con­tin­u­ing to value the things they val­ued and con­nect to the tra­di­tions the way they did,” she said.

Lead­ers of Tree of Life’s three con­gre­ga­tions have been plan­ning for com­mem­o­ra­tions on Oct. 27 to mark the pas­sage of one year since the massacre. Planned events in­clude a pri­vate Jewish ser­vice in the morn­ing, a com­mu­nity ser­vice event, and a public memo­rial ser­vice in the evening.

BARRY WERBER/AP 2017

Richard Got­tfried, car­ry­ing a To­rah out­side the Tree Of Life syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh and who was among the 11 killed Oct. 27, blew last year’s New Light’s sho­far.

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