By Ingrid Howard
Early in the morning of Oct. 27, Robert Bowers opened fire in a Pittsburgh Jewish synagogue, killing 11 congregants. The massacre is being described as the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.
In response to the attack, Birmingham’s Temple Beth-El invited the community to a prayer gathering on Oct. 30. Thousands of people crowded Highland Avenue to be part of the service.
“We cannot make sense of this horrific tragedy, and we should not try,” said Rabbi Stephen Slater of Temple Beth-El. “To the victims, we miss you. And although some of us did not know you personally, as Jews we are one nation with one beating heart, and any attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
When Bowers stormed into the church, he shouted, “All Jews must die.” Slater points out that the attacker didn’t say which kind of Jew – conservative, orthodox, Zionist – just Jews.
“While he used that idea to fuel hate and evil, we fight that today by using that to fuel love and solidarity,” Slater said. “Today, we are just Jews. A people united by our service of God and devotion to the values contained in our Torah.”
According to Jewish sages, one who saves a life has saved a world, and in contrast, those who take a life have destroyed a world, Slater said.
“These 11 worlds represented a wealth of unique experiences, spiritual power and unique perspectives that we no longer have,” he said. “My friends, we have lost worlds. And through recognizing our loss, we recognize what we must do: build worlds. Build the world in the name of those who cannot anymore.”
James Krell, a native of Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania, lit 11 candles in honor of the massacre victims. As he lit the candles, cantor Jessica Roskin of Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham read the 11 names.
Throughout the service, Sarah Metzger, the music and youth director at Temple Beth-El, played songs on the guitar while the words were displayed on a projector so the audience could sing along.
“I will build this world from love,” she sang during one of the songs. “You must build this world from love.”
The service concluded with a prayer walk to Temple Emanu-El. As people walked to the temple, they held their phone flashlights in the air, just as they had done during one of the songs Metzger sang.
The names of those who died in the Pittsburgh massacre are Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger.