NOVEMBER 1, 2018 – A day after 11 Jews were killed during a Shabbat morning service at a Pittsburgh temple, thousands gathered across Massachusetts at prayer vigils and rallies to denounce hate, violence and anti-Semitism.
“This is not a failure of civility. This was an anti-Semitic mass murder,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh told over 1,000 people who assembled on the Boston Common on Sunday.
“What happened in Pittsburgh was driven by scapegoating and hatred and enabled by high powered weapons.”
Many of the speakers expressed shock after learning about the murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh Saturday morning. A Pittsburgh man was arrested inside the temple after police said he burst into the synagogue with three pistols and an AR-15-style assault rifle, and yelled, “All Jews must die,” as he murdered 11 Jews who were attending a Sabbath service.
The dead include Joyce Fienberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, 59 and 54; Bernice and Sylvan Simon, 84 and 86, who were married; Daniel Stein, 71; Melvin Wax, 88; and Irving Younger, 69.
At the Boston vigil, the state’s top elected officials – including Governor Charlie Baker, Senator Edward Markey, Congressman Joe Kennedy, and Attorney General Maura Healey – stood side-by-side with leading congregational rabbis, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, other Christian ministers, a Muslim cleric, Combined Jewish Philanthropies President Rabbi Marc Baker, and Consul General of Israel to New England Ze’ev Boker.
Looking out on the crowd, which gathered in front of the Common’s bandstand, Healey expressed her solidarity during the emotional tribute. “Today we are all Jews,” she said.
Throughout the day, people tried to make sense of the deadliest attack on Jews in American history. Across Greater Boston, in Marblehead, Swampscott, Newton, Lexington, Somerville, Cambridge, Waltham, Worcester and Springfield, they gathered to console one another and pleaded for civil discourse.
In Marblehead, amid heightened security that included a patrolman wearing a bulletproof vest, nearly 500 people gathered inside Temple Sinai, where rabbis, ministers, a Muslim cleric, state Representative Lori Ehrlich, U.S. Representative Seth Moulton, and other community leaders spoke. Moulton said the synagogue murders served as a reminder that the Jewish tradition of faith and love should serve as an inspiration to the country. “Faith, courage and hope are three things that all of America needs now, than truly at any other period in my life,” he told the assembled.
Ehrlich, a member of the Jewish community who has represented Swampscott, Marblehead and a section of Lynn at the State House for more than a decade, encouraged Jews not to be silent in the face of anti-Semitism. “My message to Jews specifically, and really anyone, is that we can’t count on some higher power to come in and save us from this,” said Ehrlich. “We are all we have, so we need to talk to each other, we need to push back if we see any kind of hatred bubbling to the surface, not just anti-Semitism, but any kind of hatred – it should all be out of bounds. And if we do that consistently, and we speak out, and we vote, we can change this terrible tide. We can save our democracy – I mean that’s really what it’s boiling down to.”
For Swampscott’s Alyssa Morgan Fafel, the previous 24 hours had been nerve-wracking. She had spent the night watching news updates of the tragedy, and speaking to her mother and family members who have deep roots at the Tree of Life congregation. Fafel grew up in Squirrel Hill, and lived a few blocks away from Tree of Life, which has served as her family’s synagogue for decades. Her late father was the shul’s president, her cousins also had led the temple, and she had gone to Hebrew school and celebrated her bat mitzvah at the synagogue.
“I’m in absolute shock and feeling under attack, and just trying to make sense of why someone would be outwardly violent, and what changed to make them so violent,” she said. “It’s one thing to be persecuted and to have prejudices, but it’s another thing to act out and take people’s lives. It’s hard to imagine to have that much hate in the heart.”
She remembers Cecil and David Rosenthal, brothers who were killed in the attack, as synagogue stalwarts who always greeted people when they arrived. “They were very sweet, devout men – very dedicated to the Jewish community, very dedicated to Tree of Life, and they lived not far away,” she said. “It’s terribly sad that one place that was so open and warm and accepting of them was the place where they lost their lives. It’s terrible.”
Prompted by a statement by President Donald Trump, who suggested that the tragedy might have been avoided if “there was an armed guard inside the temple,” area rabbis said they are reviewing their security plans.
Temple Sinai’s Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez, who led the vigil, did not rule out the possibility of placing guards at his temple. “To be honest, it’s always needed to have extra security, just like airlines have a marshal,” he said.
Congregation Shirat Hayam’s Rabbi Michael Ragozin, of Swampscott, said all temples should review their security plans. “I think it’s going to be incumbent upon our shul and every shul to review its security plans. A plan that isn’t known by the parties in the congregation is no plan. And so, at the very least, it’s incumbent upon us to review that plan, and make sure that those who are responsible are aware of things,” he said.
Rabbi David Meyer, who leads Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead, counseled against armed guards in a house of worship and suggested that the community needs to focus on the social problems that lead to mass shootings.
“There are some synagogues large enough with budgets as such to be able to afford the presence of armed security, but turning our houses of worship into war zones is not a response to the core problems which lead to such tragedies as we’re witnessing,” said Meyer.
In Swampscott, Governor Charlie Baker and his wife Lauren – who are residents of the town – joined with Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll and CJP President Marc Baker, to denounce anti-Semitism.
“People understand how important it is that we stand with our Jewish friends and neighbors,” Baker said, as nearly 200 people listened in the sanctuary at Chabad of the North Shore. “With respect to anti-Semitism, it can’t be tolerated ever, at all in any way, shape or form.”
Lipsker, who attended a Pittsburgh yeshiva for three years as a teen, also said two of his daughters lived in Squirrel Hill and walked by the Tree of Life synagogue every day. He warned that Americans cannot be silent in the wake of violence against Jews. “The senseless, cowardly attack on a synagogue is an attack on every synagogue, and the senseless, cowardly attack on all synagogues is also a senseless, cowardly attack on every church and mosque and the piece of mind that we’ve come to expect in the safety of our houses of worship,” he said.
CJP’s Marc Baker encouraged people to continue to attend their house of worship, and called it a form of resistance to those who would seek to divide and strike fear in the community. “You will not separate us from another. We will keep coming together and we will stand together with every person who suffers and with every vulnerable person in our community and outside of our community,” he said.
At Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly, cars filled the parking lot and spilled out onto Lothrop Street as more than 200 people arrived for the vigil. The temple’s rabbi, Alison Adler, and music director, Marcy Yellin, led a service of song and reflection, to mourn losses in Pittsburgh and to reaffirm bonds in Beverly. They were joined by representatives of 10 faith communities in Beverly and neighboring towns who were invited onto the bimah to light 11 memorial candles, one for each of the victims of the Tree of Life shooting.
Adler said that Jews should not be deterred in their quest to help the vulnerable, such as new immigrants. “The message that we inherited from Abraham is to stand up and fight for justice, to challenge and question the status quo – and this is exactly the spirit the killer raged against on social media.
“His anger was focused on HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, an organization that helps settle refugees from all over the world, regardless of race, creed, color, or any other distinctions. We know that our well-being as Jews is intimately tied up with the well-being of all who are vulnerable. This attack is not isolated, but part of a larger increase in expressions of hate and violence against many people, whose value as precious human beings created in God’s image they are unable to see.”
At a vigil Sunday evening at Temple B’nai Brith in Somerville, Mayor Joseph Curtatone said that the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue sparked a range of emotions, from anger to pain and loss. But he was unwavering in citing the violence of anti-Semitism.
“This is not a tragedy. It is murder,” Curtatone said to more than 100 people in the synagogue’s social hall.
The community vigil, organized by the synagogue’s rabbi Eliana Jacobowitz, was called to counter the sense of insecurity that congregants may have been experiencing. “Being able to come together in our synagogue building … helps renew our sense that it is OK to come to temple,” she said in an email.
At the event that wove comments with song and prayer, Jacobowitz said she was grateful for the support of city officials. Other city officials, including David Fallon, the city’s police chief, attended. The temple is the recipient of a grant from the Department of Homeland Security to improve security, according to synagogue president Fred Levy.
City residents also showed support. On Saturday, a bouquet of flowers was left at the front steps of the congregation.
“We stand with you in this very sad day,” read the accompanying handwritten note, signed, “Your Neighbors.”
Journal Associate Editor Michael Wittner, and correspondents Larry Constantine and Penny Schwartz contributed to this article.