Like Shabbat evening in an old city, people bundled into their coats and stepped out onto the sidewalks just before sundown, quietly making their way to the synagogue. Only, it wasn’t Shabbat, it was a Tuesday. And not all lived nearby, some were walking from their cars — parked five blocks over. And not all were Jewish.
More than 1,000 people, according to security, teemed into Temple Beth Shalom Tuesday night to show support for the Jewish community and to pay their respects to the 11 people gunned down Oct. 27 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh by an anti-Semite.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had this many people in this room,” said Pam Silverstein, a member of TBS who helped organized the vigil.
Rabbi Tamar Malino said the Tree of Life Synagogue is not unlike TBS: It houses multiple congregations, is a place children run between pews, elderly celebrate birthdays, and Jews go to worship and feel safe.
And now, she said, the Jewish community mourns.
“We grieve for the violence that has been done to us as a people, and for the violence that has been done to others. We grieve and we are frightened,” she said, adding that in 2017 there was a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic acts. “Anti-Semitism is more visible in the United States than it has been in many decades, perhaps than it has ever been.”
Whether the uptick stems from ignorance or hatred, Malino said, it can’t be ignored.
She also noted the hate crimes other groups have fallen victim to, like the shooting in Kentucky last week that left two black people dead.
“And so we are frightened, not just for ourselves, but for everyone living in a world where this kind of anti-Semitism along with so many forms of racism, bigotry and hatred are rampant and have provoked such violence; and it is particularly horrible when it happens in houses of worship where individuals are at their most vulnerable, their most open, and their most trusting,” she said.
The Rev. Scott Starbuck of Manito Presbyterian Church, who stood at the podium of TBS four years ago after a swastika was painted onto the side of the synagogue, stood at the front of the sanctuary again Tuesday to let the Jewish community know his church is standing in love and solidarity with them.
And, he said, he’s praying for God’s help in confronting hate.
“…First, the hate that might be within. But then the hate that is outside of us, the hate that seems so often to be overtaking our land; the hate that is empirically increasing; the hate that has to be reckoned with, that has to rise to the foremost of our concerns each and everyday,” Starbuck said.
Echoing the pastor’s words, Mayor David Condon spoke about the violence and how impossible it seems to make sense of.
“Even as angry as we are today, maybe the saddest part is how quickly these tragedies go on, sometimes forgotten,” he said. “Do we allow ourselves to expect it? I can’t accept that. It’s not OK. We can’t be desensitized to senseless travesty, it’s not OK…A culture that fixates on differences, selfishness and violence is not OK and neither is a community numb to hatred. That is not the case here, just looking out at all of you.”
Looking back at Condon were Jews, Muslims, Buddhist, Catholics, Protestants and many others.
Many had never been to the synagogue before, like Theresa James who lives on Spokane’s north side.
“We have to openly show that we’re not afraid and won’t live in fear,” she said. “It’s what God calls us to do in the face of evil.”
Ted Cummings, who is running for state representative, agreed.
“It’s so important to stand with our Jewish friends,” he said. “We have to let people know we’re not going anywhere.”
Also at the vigil were faith leaders and leaders of conscience who stood together and collectively condemned hate in Spokane.
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Tracy Simmons is an award-winning journalist specializing in religion reporting and digital entrepreneurship. In her approximate 20 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti. Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas, Connecticut and Washington. She is the executive director of SpokaneFāVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Washington. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and national publications. She is a Scholarly Assistant Professor of Journalism at Washington State University.
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