Vigil hon­ors those who died in syn­a­gogue shoot­ing

Times Chronicle & Public Spirit - - FRONT PAGE - By Linda Stein lstein@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @lstein­re­porter on Twit­ter

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.

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