By Brian Taylor
Congregation Beth Adam, in collaboration with the Jewish Community Relations Council, held a special event November 4 to commemorate the lives of 11 people killed October 27, in an anti-Semitic attack on Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The meeting -- preceded two days earlier by a special service that drew hundreds -- was attended by 150 people from various religious and ethnic communities throughout the city.
Dozens of children of the Beth Adam congregation greeted participants before leaving to attend a separate program focussed on handling grief and sadness, helping others in pain and changing the world for the better. They also made butterflies intended to be sent to congregants at Tree of Life.
Robert Barr, founding Rabbi at Beth Adam, moderated the event and gave opening remarks to the gathering. “The world is reeling from the murder of 11 innocents in Pittsburgh simply because they were Jewish.” He noted that in addition to his tie with Tree of Life as a rabbi, he had a very personal connection as part of his family lives in Pittsburgh and specifically attend the embattled synagogue located in Squirrel Hill.
After seeing a video presentation coming out o the massacre, he reached out to Tree of Life congregants, Bob and Judy Danenberg to see if he could replay the video to his congregation. They agreed but also volunteered to travel into town to participate in the November 4 event.
Bob Danenberg, a Tree of Life member for 35 years, explained that 15,000 people — 30% of Pittsburgh’s Jewish population — reside in Squirrel Hill. He described the thriving community and the close-knit connections of families in the area. “This is of the worst attacks in the history of the Republic…. The shooter had an AR 15 assault rifle and 3 Gloc 57 handguns. He used all of them during the attack and he had a shotgun in the car.” “Many of the bodies,” Danenberg added, “were not immediately identifiable” after the shootings. According to the Jewish Chronicle, the alleged shooter, Robert Bowers (46), posted threats against Jews and immigrants on social media prior to the attack.
Judy Danenberg began by reading off the names of those killed. They included: Joyce Fienberg (75), Richard Gottfried (65), Rose Mallinger (97), Jerry Rabinowitz (69), Cecil Rosenthal (59), David Rosenthal (54), Bernice Simon (84), Sylvan Simon (86), Daniel Stein (71), Melvin Wax (87), and Irving Younger (69). She told a story about each of them, highlighting who they were and their contributions to synagogue and to her, personally. She also made mention and honored the 6 people injured during the attack, including 2 congregants and 4 police officers.
“The JCC (Jewish Community Center) has become a place to mourn the massacre,” she noted as she described how the incident has lead many from the community to pull together and rejoin the synagogue and the three congregations it houses. Danenberg ended her remarks in a spirited proclamation that “Through all of this WE — people of all walks — will become stronger, tighter than we have ever been.”
“This is a wake up call,” Bob Danenberg said. “This can’t be sugar coated. We think it can’t happen to us. It can.” “What do we do now?” he asked. “We can’t let hatred dominate. We have to take measurable and lawful actions to counteract hatred and anti-Semitism. Take some form of action today!” he ended.
Beth Adam organized an open discussion period, in which people present raised questions about self defense and preparedness, discussed the current political and social climate as related to anti-Semitism, and talked about the links between this attack and other attacks against Black people and immigrants. Several asked questions about the efforts to repair the synagogue. Messages of solidarity came from Hindu and Muslim individuals as well as anti-police brutality activists.
“This has been a week of profound darkness,” Brian Jaffe of the Jewish Foundation, told the meeting. But he reflected on the broad international solidarity that continues to come in and pointed out that “nearly every synagogue and Jewish community in the country experienced an underestimation of support.”
“Take what you’ve heard, take what you’ve learned today and turn it into action,” urged Robert Barr in closing the event.