NOVEMBER 15, 2018 – Are Jews nervous about going into their houses of worship since 11 Jews were gunned down in the sanctuary of their spiritual home in Pittsburgh? Yes, they are. Are they staying away from shul? On the contrary, on the first Shabbat after the synagogue massacre they flooded into places of worship.
“It gives me comfort to be here with my people,” said a woman who requested anonymity as she listened to Shabbat prayers on Nov. 3 at Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott.
After a deeply emotional week where Jews wondered about their security and future in America, the call from the American Jewish Committee to attend a synagogue registered as an example of strength against hate.
Rabbi Michael Ragozin of Shirat Hayam said twice as many congregants than the previous Sabbath attended service on Nov. 3. Ragozin does not expect that level of attendance to continue, “but over time, I think we will see a greater response – people will want to get involved. We will see growth in people coming to shul.”
Rabbi Alison Adler of Temple B’nai Abraham of Beverly said up to 300 Jews and gentiles came to a Sunday service after the Pittsburgh shooting. “That helped people feel better. When you have a person across the street bring cookies and someone else bringing flowers, there’s an outpouring of love and concern that makes people feel good. Last Shabbat, (Nov. 3) people felt they needed to be together. All our kids in Hebrew school came. It doesn’t feel like people are afraid to come,” Adler said.
“What terrorism does could have the effect of making us feel unsafe to go into our spiritual home. It [the Pittsburgh shooting] was a Shabbat. No, we are not going to allow it to have that impact on us. People are coming.”
Several synagogue members with licenses to carry have asked Chabad of Peabody Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman if they could come with their weapons, and the rabbi agreed to it. “We are not going to be afraid, but we are going to make sure that we are safe and able to go to shul,” he said.
A dozen students have been attending training sessions as to how to respond to increasing anti-Semitism on college campuses not with fear but with action. Sponsored by Campus Anti-Semitism Task Force of the North Shore, the sessions started before the Oct. 27 Pittsburgh temple shooting. College-bound high school seniors are learning that they must not be silent in the face of hatred, but confront it, speak out, and reach out to authorities to report it, said Ragozin.
The youngest children at Shirat Hayam are for the most part being protected from hearing about the synagogue shooting, said Ragozin. But children in seventh grade and beyond, “are waking up to the realities,” of it. “They don’t really want to talk about the attack on Jews. They want to talk about gun control,” said Ragozin.
In Beverly, the fifth to seventh graders talked about the incident in Hebrew school, said Adler. “When I talked with them, it was more like anger. ‘How could somebody do that, rather than fear.’”
Adler mentioned that last year “somebody was driving around Beverly with a white supremacist sign on their door. The police dealt with it. At that point, we got cameras, panic buttons and active shooter training. We will be doing it again. We have a security committee. We’ll see what the ADL and police recommend.”