The Oct. 27 massacre that claimed 11 lives at a Pittsburgh synagogue prompted a gathering of more than 800 people the following day at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills. They came together not to wallow in fear and hate, but to reaffirm love and family, and commit to repair and recovery.
Representatives of the Christian, Muslim and Hindu faiths who attended the Oct. 28 gathering offered local Jews their support in the wake of the attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue. The shootings, allegedly at the hand of a lone gunman with a history of anti-Semitism, were reported to be the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.
Beth Am Senior Rabbi Janet Marder led the assembled crowd in prayer and song, introducing speakers that included local faith and political leaders. Beth Am held another gathering Friday as part of a nationwide campaign, #ShowUpForShabbat.
“Oct. 28, the day after, this sanctuary is full – our community gathers in this sacred place to stand together in unity to create sanctuary for one another,” Marder said. “Within hours of yesterday’s tragedy, we at Beth Am and Jews throughout the Bay Area received beautiful messages of support from leaders and members of other faith communities. … I am deeply grateful for all the messages of solidarity – (it is) comforting to know that we are not alone in our grief.”
Marder read a statement from Susan Block Fishman, a member of Congregation Beth Am who grew up in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh where the shootings occurred.
“The tragic violence yesterday shattered the bubble that was the safest place in the world to grow up as a Jew,” Fishman wrote, describing a tight-knit community with parades and school closures on Jewish holidays. “We mourn the loss of our loved ones, but also the loss of our safety. I wish the world could know how amazing it was to grow up in such a loving, vibrant Jewish community. I hope our hearts will mend and that history will remain strong in the face of anti-Semitism and hate.”
Another Beth Am member, a high school junior, said, “It angers me that this is still the reality of our country, that we are still having this conversation after so long. It saddens me that now I have to worry about being safe in the places that I should feel safest. … How can we put an end to this madness?”
State Sen. Jerry Hill, whose 13th District includes Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View, noted, “All people of goodwill are grieving with you.”
Hill said this latest tragedy is reflective of a growing trend of hate and bigotry.
“This is the consequence of our political polarization and hate messages in social media,” he said, in addition to the relatively easy access to semiautomatic weapons. “We must demand our political leaders address all these issues and more.”
The Oct. 28 service included two speeches by members of the Muslim community.
“We are family together, and no matter what, we stick together,” said Ustadha Maryam Amir, a scholar and teacher with the Hikmah Institute. “All mosques open our doors for you, and you don’t need to knock because family never needs to knock. (We need to) create a society where children are not afraid to say they are Jewish and not afraid to say they are Muslim, Christian or any other thing they identify as.”
Athar Siddique, a trustee of the Islamic Center of the South Bay, said “we will not tolerate these acts of hate, bigotry and violence.”
“(Terrorists) will never win – they will only increase our solidarity,” he added. “An act of hate and violence against one of us is an act of hate and violence against all of us.”
Quoting from the Book of Ruth, “the names of the dead shall not disappear,” Marder read aloud the names and ages of those murdered in Pittsburgh.
Another speaker encouraged the gathering to write notes to the families in Pittsburgh directly affected by the tragedy.
At the end of the service, faith leaders gathered to lead the congregation in a rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
For more on Beth Am’s response to the shootings, including a review of its security procedures and links to help the affected community, visit betham.org.