On the First Shabbat After Pittsburgh Attack, ‘We’re Here to Be Jewish Together’

On the First Shabbat After Pittsburgh Attack, ‘We’re Here to Be Jewish Together’

Image
The first Sabbath since the shooting in Pittsburgh at Rodef Shalom congregation on Friday night.CreditCreditHilary Swift for The New York Times

PITTSBURGH — As the sun went down on Friday, they walked into synagogues across the country in solidarity and in grief. Some carried prayer books. Some carried their children. Others carried the memories of friends who had been slaughtered nearly a week earlier in a gunman’s hate-filled rampage at the Tree of Life synagogue.

Some were Jews with a strict practice of religious observance. Others set foot inside a synagogue only once or twice a year. There were Christians and Muslims, political dignitaries and Hollywood stars, greeting one another with a “Shabbat Shalom” that on this first Sabbath since the killings felt less like the usual friendly greeting than a plea for a shattered peace.

“We are all grieving,” Dr. Mitchell Antin, a regular congregant at Congregation Beth Shalom in Pittsburgh, which was holding regular services as well as private services for two of the congregations at the Tree of Life, where 11 people were killed.

So it went: Candles were lit, songs were sung, and rabbis and congregants spoke about finding healing in community, about finding hope in grief and about the fears that now loom over the simple practice of faith. These are scenes from their Shabbats.

At the Rodef Shalom congregation in Pittsburgh, where three funerals were held over the past week, people fell into weary hugs in the lobby and greeted newcomers.

“Have you been to a Jewish service before?” an older woman asked one of the many women at the service who were wearing hijabs.

The leader of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh received a standing ovation, as did Joanne Rogers, the widow of the children’s television host Fred Rogers, whose neighborhood, after all, was Squirrel Hill.

Image
Rabbi David Spey at Temple Bat Yam of East Fort Lauderdale, Fla.CreditAngel Valentin for The New York Times

“It’s been confusing for me; I’ve been frightened,” Mrs. Rogers told the congregation. “I have had trouble dealing with the fact that this happened, but I don’t want to give credit to the fact that it happened.

“I want to tell you how wonderful you are,” she said. “How beautiful you are. I love you.”

As the cantor sang, a smaller, private service was taking place nearby in Levy Hall for members of the Tree of Life congregation, whose synagogue was now a crime scene and whose membership was now seven fewer. It was holding its first Shabbat service since last Saturday.

“I do not ordinarily go to Friday night services,” said Marcia Stewart, 88, a member of Tree of Life for four decades. When she goes to Saturday service, she usually shows up late. That’s what happened last Saturday, and it probably saved her life. That is in part why she felt obligated to go tonight.

“They were there Saturday,” she said of the dead. “And I was not.”

At the service, they too sang, prayed and recited kaddish; the rabbi at one point removed his prayer shawl and jacket, and put on a T-shirt with a Star of David worked into the Pittsburgh Steelers logo.

She had spent this past week at funerals for people she had been having lunch with not a month ago. Irv Younger. Bernice Simon. Rose Mallinger, whose funeral she had attended earlier on Friday at Rodef Shalom.

At that funeral the rabbi had talked of still being here, “not ready to disappear yet,” she said.

That is another reason she felt she needed be there on Friday. “Tree of Life needs to be there together again,” she said, “or we will lose our identity.” — Campbell Robertson

Herbert and Arlene Moses were supposed to join friends for dinner Friday night. They turned them down. The evening, they said, belonged to home, to their Jewish community, to Tree of Life. In the same Squirrel Hill synagogue where 11 were killed, Ms. Moses had gone to Hebrew school. It is where she was confirmed. It is where her parents held their 50th anniversary.

So the retired couple, members of Tree of Life until they moved to Florida 18 years ago, walked into Temple Bat Yam, a small synagogue with arched ceilings and stained-glass windows in East Fort Lauderdale, Fla. They sat in the fifth row, where Ms. Moses, 76, quietly cried. She was full of childhood memories, but also couldn’t help wondering what those dreadful moments must have been like last Saturday morning.

Image

Temple Emanuel in Newton, Mass.CreditKayana Szymczak for The New York Times

She thought of how Rose Mallinger, 97, and her late mother had been friends and sold purses together.

“It was such a tough week. It’s hard to describe,” she said as her eyes welled. “We had to come back here, we needed to hear the Rabbi’s words.”

Mr. Moses, 72, nodded. “We needed to be with our people.” — Audra D. S. Burch

At Temple Emanuel in Newton, Mass., a conservative synagogue in a leafy suburb of Boston, congregants arrived under a drizzling rain, awash in sadness, fear and anger.

“We just weren’t the ones who happened to be shot, but we feel like it happened to everyone here,” said Sheldon Rowdan, 45, who came with his wife and two children. He described Newton as a family-centered community that felt similar to Squirrel Hill.

He said that he had been thinking about his grandparents, who were Holocaust survivors. “They had always said, ‘It’s going to happen again — don’t ever feel complacent,’” he said. “I think in the United States people did get complacent. They did kind of feel like it wouldn’t happen here.”

Linda Gelda, 64, said she had come to services on Friday full of emotions.

“I’m partly here out of outrage,” she said. “I feel like it’s one thing I can do. It protects against a feeling of despair and helplessness.”

Several people who were not Jewish said they had come to show solidarity with Jewish friends. Heather Neal, 39, said she had heard about the #ShowUpforShabbat campaign organized by the American Jewish Committee to encourage Jews and non-Jews alike to attend services on Friday. She decided to bring her daughter, Victoria, 4.

By 6:30, when the service for families started, there were several hundred people in the sanctuary, greeting one another with hugs and kisses. The rabbi, Michelle S. Robinson, made only brief allusions to the tragedy in Pittsburgh; the synagogue’s main Shabbat service is Saturday morning, and Senator Elizabeth Warren was set to come and deliver a prayer.

Image

Outside the Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York.CreditSara Naomi Lewkowicz for The New York Times

“Each of you who made the choice to come here tonight, to stand together, to pray together, are angels of peace,” Rabbi Robinson said. “Let us raise our voices against the darkness.” — Kate Taylor

At the Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, a new poster on the table that announces coming events offered a quiet signal of a changed world. It showed pictures of the 11 Pittsburgh victims.

“It’s unspeakably terrible and sad,” said Gideon Schor, who has been a member of Lincoln Square, a modern Orthodox synagogue on the Upper West Side, for more than 20 years.

But as people gathered, many said the events in Pittsburgh would not disrupt their Sabbath.

“Nothing will prevent me from coming,” said Mr. Schor, 54, who attends synagogue daily.

He added: “Our strength comes from daily unity. We draw additional strength from each other in challenging times.”

Rabbi Shaul Robinson, the senior rabbi, said he spent much of this week in conversations about how to enhance security. Though he would not divulge what additional preparations the temple had made, he said he had heard from many Jews who were even more committed to “to show up for Shabbat.”

“It is absolutely a sign that we will not be cowed or intimated or too frightened to walk into a Jewish building,” Rabbi Robinson said. — Tyler Pager

At the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, thousands lined up on a rainy evening to try to claim one of the 800 sanctuary seats in one of the city’s oldest Jewish institutions.

Image

Inside the Sixth & I synagogue in Washington.CreditT.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

At the Shabbat service there on Friday, underneath the synagogue’s 69-foot Moorish-style dome, Rabbi Shira Stutman lit 13 candles: 11 for the victims in Pittsburgh and two for the victims of a shooting at a Kroger grocery store in Kentucky. The service, full of laughing and crying, ended with a rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.”

Turnout was so high that the synagogue held a second, abbreviated Shabbat service for the hundreds who could not get into the first, and a separate Orthodox service in the basement of the building.

Jennifer Cook and Zachary Weinstein, both 24, said they typically celebrated Shabbat at home in nearby Silver Spring, Md. But they were spurred to make the trip to the city after the shooting.

“It comes down to the Jewish community being visible,” Mr. Weinstein said. “We need a positive experience, some way to interact positively with Judaism instead of reading bad news.”

Kelli Rubin, 21, and Lee Friedman, 24, both Washington residents, said they had made a renewed commitment to Judaism.

“This week has showed me I need to take more action,” Mr. Friedman said.

“Sixth & I represents the persistence of the Jewish people,” Ms. Rubin said. “We can’t forget this is a hard time for the Jewish people.” — Noah Weiland

Just as it does every Friday night, as Sabbath begins for Jews everywhere, the congregation at B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Deerfield, a suburb of Chicago, lit the two sabbath candles. But then Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar dipped a long taper into the flame, igniting the tip. She turned to the center of the pulpit and, one by one, lit eleven candles more.

The yahrzeit, or memorial candles, burned throughout the service, before packed pews holding about four times as many people as is typical at the Friday night service, according to several congregants. Some of the heads bent over prayer books had skullcaps, others were bare: Parishioners from at least three churches had joined in the service, and the homily was recited by the Rev. Anne Jolly, the rector of nearby Saint Gregory’s Episcopal Church.

Image

Laurie Krupp comforted her son Joshua as a rabbi spoke about the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting during a Shabbat service on Friday at Congregation B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Deerfield, Ill.CreditLaura McDermott for The New York Times

“We spent the week crying and burying the dead,” the rabbi said.

“Communities all over the world gather in their sanctuaries,’’ she said, “to turn them into sanctuaries again.

“The pain doesn’t diminish the hope.”

Rector Jolly spoke about Richard Godfried, one of the people killed in the Pittsburgh attack, who was a friend’s uncle. Mr. Godfried, she pointed out, was married to a Roman Catholic woman, and the two ministered as a unit to the needy faithful in their separate congregations. As the service ended, Christian and Jewish clergy who had been sitting in the pews joined the rabbi on the bimah, or stage. They wrapped arms around each other and sang a final song in Hebrew. — Sarah Maslin Nir

Nearly 2,500 miles west of Pittsburgh, at a synagogue in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, Rabbi Ed Feinstein opened Shabbat services with a simple declaration about the 11 lives taken last week: “I didn’t know any one of them. But I know every single one of them.”

Heads nodded in the packed pews at Valley Beth Shalom, a thriving synagogue that is one of the largest in Judaism’s Conservative movement. The men and women who were killed in Pittsburgh are familiar to every synagogue. These are the faithful congregants who show up early, cut the bagels for the social hour afterward, greet the worshipers and hand out the prayer books at the sanctuary door.

The service on Friday, Rabbi Feinstein said, was a “communal sitting shiva,” the mourning period observed by Jews for close family and friends. “We need to sit shiva because all of us have been wounded deeply this week,” he told the congregation.

He had spent the last week receiving emails and phone calls from clergy of many faiths, offering solace and support — which made him hopeful. But he had also been counseling parents who wanted advice on how to talk to their children about what had happened in Pittsburgh. He said he soon came to realize that what they really wanted was help processing the tragedy for themselves.

In the car on the way to temple on Friday, Jamie Weissman decided to broach the issue with her 6-year-old son. She told him that “a man sick in the head” shot and killed some Jews “far away from here,” so it was important to go to temple and be with other Jews. “Because if we don’t stay together, we might become extinct,” she told him, knowing that he was learning about endangered species and knew the meaning of extinct.

Now, as she watched her son and 3-year-old daughter romping around with dozens of others after the children’s services and a potluck dinner, Ms. Weissman wondered whether it was right to talk with her son. Her grandparents had helped found this synagogue.

“I don’t want him to be scared to come here,” she said. — Laurie Goodstein

Campbell Robertson and Jack Healy reported from Pittsburgh and Jennifer Medina reported from Los Angeles. Reporting was contributed by Laurie Goodstein from Los Angeles; Audra D. S. Burch from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Kate Taylor from Newton, Mass.; Tyler Pager from New York; Kim Lyons from Pittsburgh; Sarah Maslin Nir from Deerfield, Ill., and Noah Weiland from Washington.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A14 of the New York edition with the headline: On Shabbat: ‘We’re Here to Be Jewish Together’. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

NYT > U.S.