December 30, 2018

Jewish Community Bands Together After Pittsburgh Tragedy

Sam Rigante ‘21 & Michael Lurie ‘21
Image result for pittsburgh vigil livingston

It was a sight unlike any other: thousands of people pouring into a synagogue, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, to stand together in solidarity after what has been called “the worst attack on the Jewish people in the United States.” Hand-in-hand, the Jewish community – as well as Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and thousands of others – listened to and led vigils and memorials for the 11 Jews killed in a Pittsburgh temple on Saturday, October 27, during Shabbat morning services.
Political and religious leaders across the country spoke and held services in honor of those killed and in the hope that tragedies like this can eventually be stopped.
Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston was one of the temples that held services and had distinguished speakers in the wake of this tragedy, including New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Dov Ben-Shimon, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest N.J. Many political leaders and congressmen attended, including now congresswoman-elect Mikie Sherrill and her then-opponent for the 11th district, Jay Webber.
“We have called this gathering a solemn observance of mourning and outrage,” Rabbi Kulwin, the rabbi of Temple B’nai Abraham, began. “We believe the four words precisely convey the horror of this moment. Solemn; this is an utterly somber moment. Observance; a ceremony that is meaningful but not joyous. Mourning; we are in mourning. Outraged; we are outraged.”
The event not only memorialized and honored the victims of the devastating shooting, but called for change after the realization that this has happened too many times.
“We must present a plan making sure that no one who harbors the desire to inflict harm and terror on our communities has access to guns,” Governor Murphy asserted strongly in his speech to those attending the vigil. “These are our laws and we will enforce them and we're already looking at potentially adding more laws.”
As all the victims were Jewish and the attack itself was committed in the name of anti-Semitism, organizers of the event made sure Judaism and Jewish prayers were incorporated into the memorial. Traditional Jewish mourning prayers such as El Maley Rachamim were recited by the temple’s cantor as well as Psalm 23, the psalm traditionally read during a time of mourning. The service ended with a recitation of the victim’s names and ages followed by the Mourner’s Kaddish.
All 11 victims were over 50 years old and the oldest victim, Rose Mallinger, was 97. A pair of brothers, Cecil and David Rosenthal, as well as a husband and wife, Berniece and Sylvan Simon, were killed by Robert Bowers, 46, who ran into the Tree of Life Synagogue on the morning of Saturday, October 27, chanting anti-Semitic slurs and other derogatory phrases directed towards Jews. Bowers is being charged with a 44-count hate crime indictment and could potentially face the death penalty.
The news of this tragedy shocked and angered many people all across the country, as well as scaring and enraging many here at Golda Och Academy. As a Jewish school, the threat presented by this kind of shooting is much more present and real than the threat presented by other recent shootings. Students and faculty are not only worried for their safety, but wonder what they can do to help after such a tragedy.
“I was scared because I’m hearing about all these shootings and it seems like nowhere’s safe anymore,” sophomore Lilly Berman said after hearing the news. “I think immediately afterward is when we should just honor the victims and pray for their families. Afterward, [we can] start talking about change.”
Senior Maddie Herman highlighted just how much of a threat anti-Semitism has become.
“Although there have been a lot of mass shootings recently, I never expected it to be because of anti semitism  or rooted in anti semitism ,” Herman said.“Obviously you’re upset about it, it has a big impact on you, but when it’s these schools you have no connection and it’s harder. There’s more of a disconnect.”
Head of School Adam Shapiro talked about how frightening the incident was, especially as head of a large Jewish community.
“Like everybody else [we are] shocked, horrified, scared and angry,” he said. “When we look at Pittsburgh, we see the level of hate in our country, we see the level of rhetoric and the point it's at and it's not just upsetting, it's frightening.
“And Tree of Life synagogue, as far as I'm concerned, it looks just like every other synagogue in the Greater Metro-West [area] that we go to and it's not one of these situations where we can say it didn’t affect us this time.”
What brought many together after the horrific shooting, however, was the feeling that change, in many forms, was needed. While many mass shootings occured before this one, none have affected the Jewish Community as strongly as the Tree of Life shooting.
“As a country we need to think, reflect and not allow easy access to assault weapons and rifles overall,” Rabbi Kallush said. “I think that's one side of it. I think there's also a conversation to have about anti-Semitism and the fact that it hasn't disappeared and is probably flourishing in many parts of the country.
“I think it's upon us to make sure that we educate people on this and fight anti-Semitism.”
GOA students also had ideas as to how to help make change in the wake of the shooting.
“[Bowers] should not have been able to acquire a gun… and there has to be some type of gun reform,” Berman said.
Other students echoed her ideas.
“I think we need to foster a conversation about gun violence and how we’re willing to take action against it,” Herman added.
The biggest takeaway from the aftermath of the shooting was that in order to stop these killings from happening and to prevent anti-Semitism from rising, we need to mainly fight hatred and injustice in all places. Starting small, according to some, can spark a greater change in society that could prevent future hate crimes from happening.

“We have to talk about it. We have to understand it,” Mr. Ober said. “We have to, I think, acknowledge how we feel and figure out how we can move forward, fight the kind of anger and hatred that promotes that kind of violence.”

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