Eleven people were shot in cold blood Saturday, October 27 for no reason other than they were Jewish. They were attending a special Jewish life-cycle event at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh when a heavily armed gunman stormed in and opened fire.
The loss of these lives, and the injuries sustained by others including first responders is a result of hate, pure and simple.
While the Jewish community is no stranger to persecution and denouncement, to think that in 2018 people are not safe in their own house of worship is devastating.
The ripple effects of this nightmare will be long felt worldwide.
Locally, Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser of Temple Sinai in Cranston had the unenviable job of speaking to the students in the religious school on Sunday morning.
“I went into every classroom yesterday to talk to each grade on what was level appropriate for them,” he said Monday. “I asked them what questions they had, and responded to what they wanted to hear. There were lengthy conversations with the older classes. I told them when they encounter anti Semitism in school they shouldn’t assume someone is actually threatening, but maybe it is someone trying to build him or herself up.”
He went on to tell the children that they must be proactive and be strong when they hear and see behavior that is anti-Semitic.
“Stand up for yourselves, say something, every time someone stands up for themselves, it says bullying has no place in our world,” he said.
Goldwasser assured the children and their families that Temple Sinai is a safe place.
“We had greatly enhanced security at religious school on Sunday,” he said. “The Cranston Police Department detailed a couple of officers to Temple Sinai. We had more than usual staff members monitoring the doors. The main message I wanted to send to parents and students is that we prioritize their security and temple is a safe place. And always will be.”
Goldwasser expects a larger than usual turnout for Shabbat services on Friday evening.
“People will be coming seeking the comfort of the community,” he said in an email. “We can grieve together. I will be adding the names of the ones who passed away to the mourners kaddish (the prayer traditionally recited in memory of the dead).”
For Goldwasser and the Temple Sinai community, this tragedy is truly bittersweet as they are preparing to host their 60th anniversary gala on Saturday evening.
Cranston Mayor Allan Fung issued a formal statement regarding the tragic event.
“You don't need to be part of the community to understand that it's being ostracized. We must be empathetic to the plights of those around us. The rise of anti-Semitism didn't just happen overnight, but has been a disgusting trend over these past few years. I remember in Cranston when swastikas were painted onto Cranston Stadium, and how quickly our team worked to remove them. We brought the Jewish community together in our City to let them know they are valued here,” he said. Fung suggested that people try to reach out, and find some common ground. “In the memory of those worshipers in Pittsburgh, try reaching out to one person this week that is from a different community and just have a conversation. Seek to understand their plight. An executive order or proclamation cannot fix this stream of violence. The fix is in each one of us fearing not the differences between us, but in what a world without those differences would be,” he said.
Prayers from all denominations were said across the state. Bishop Nicholas Knisely, the Bishop of Rhode Island for the Episcopal Diocese, offered these words of comfort:
“God, filled with mercy, dwelling in the heavens' heights, bring proper rest beneath the wings of your Divine Presence, amid the ranks of the holy and the pure, illuminating like the brilliance of the skies the souls of our beloved and our blameless who went to their eternal place of rest. May You who are the source of mercy shelter them beneath Your wings eternally, and bind their souls among the living, that they may rest in peace. And let us say: Amen,” Knisely said.
When heartbreak reaches into a worldwide community, there usually is nothing more to be done than offer thoughts and prayers.
The Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, in partnership with the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island, and representatives from the interfaith community held a prayer and action vigil Monday night at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, inviting all faiths to come together and share their sorrow.
Cranston resident and Deacon at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Grace Swinski, attended.
“I went to support my brothers and sisters in solidarity,” she said. “There was security around but you didn’t feel concerned.”
According to Swinski, Governor Gina Raimondo, Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, and Representatives David Cicciline and Jim Langevin were in attendance but none spoke. The mayors from Central Falls and Providence were there as well.
“One moving part was the lighting of candles for all who have died. The rabbi shared that we pray for the ones who are in mourning after the dead have been buried. Interesting to explain for us not of the Jewish faith,” Swinski said.
Jakob, Hannah and Albin Wells and Sarah Grill, students from Squirrel Hill, lit a candle for each of those who were lost as Rabbi Barry Dolinger and Rabbi Goldwasser read the names aloud.
“Our hearts break with all of those in Pittsburgh, and literally around the globe, who are grieving today. I sincerely pray that this gathering and so many like it around the country and around the world will bring some sort of solace to those who are in pain,” said Reverend Donnie Anderson, the executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches.
Other speakers included Rabbi Goldwasser, and Rabbi Sarah Mack of Temple Beth-El in Providence. Mack is also the President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.
Michael Smith, the owner of Shalom Memorial Funeral Chapel in Cranston is going to Pittsburgh to assist.
“The outpour of help was amazing. I know of at least a dozen funeral directors from KAVOD, the independent funeral directors association, who offered to go to Pittsburgh to help. This tragedy affects all Jews everywhere. Let us be strong together. If you have the compassion, you do whatever you can to help,” he said at the vigil Monday night.
The attendees were gathered for many reasons, but there was one common thread that tied them all together, and it was grief.
“Definitely people of numerous Christian churches (R. Catholic, Episcopalian, other Protestant), Unitarian Universalist, and Muslim as well as Jewish. Lots of clergy, politicians, strong police presence. There were people of all ages from very young to very old. I would say close to a thousand in attendance. It was amazing, comforting and faith affirming,” said Em Gardner, a Cranston resident.
As the Tree of Life, Pittsburgh and Jewish communities find a way to grieve, accept and move forward, may the memories of those gone forever be a blessing.
Rose Mallinger, 97 Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, Cecil Rosenthal, 59, David Rosenthal, 54, (brother of Cecil), Bernice Simon, 84, Sylvan Simon, 86, (husband of Bernice), Daniel Stein, 71, Melvin Wax, 88, and Irving Younger, 69.