Rabbi Charles Klein, of the Merrick Jewish Centre, planned to visit Pittsburgh, along with a delegation of other rabbis, this week to comfort the be-reaved and visit the wounded after a deadly anti-Semitic mass shooting at Tree of Life Congregation.
“We feel very deeply and personally the pain and loss of 11 of our people,” Klein said on Oct. 27, hours after the shooting. “Our hearts are broken. The horror of what occurred in that synagogue makes all of us mourners — because we are, first and foremost, a family, and they are our brothers and sisters.”
The Jewish Centre also hosted an inter-congregational vigil on Monday night, which was attended by hundreds.
Klein said at the vigil that on Oct. 27, Jewish life in America changed forever.
“We sadly have seen in America a dramatic and alarming increase in anti-Semitism,” he said. “This massacre, in my view, is the most graphic and powerful reminder that anti-Semitism can explode in the most violent way possible.”
Disbelief was a common theme among some attendees, such as Arlene Friedman, of Merrick.
Friedman worships at Congregation Ohav Sholom, and said that all people, of all religions, need to stand up, because “we can’t have a Holocaust occur again.”
“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that someone would walk in . . . It’s something I never thought would happen in this country,” she said. “It’s frightening for my children. I hope that we stop this, and that we make this a better world.”
Rabbi Dahlia Bernstein, at Congregation Beth Ohr in Bellmore, said that the Pittsburgh shooting hit particularly close to home because a clergyman formerly of Congregation Beth El (which became Beth Ohr in recent years) serves one of the communities housed in the building that was targeted.
“Thankfully, he and his family were unharmed,” Bernstein wrote on Facebook.
“I stood in services after hearing the news feeling shaken, imagining a sanctuary like ours in turmoil,” she said. “How can this be happening in 2018? One might think that an event like this would make people want to disassociate, but I believe the opposite is true. It crystallizes a steadfast desire to come together, to pray ancient words that have held our people for hundreds and thousands of years.”
Bernstein and other congregants from Beth Ohr also joined the vigil at the Merrick Jewish Centre.
Brian McMillan, of Bellmore, ministers at CenterPoint Church in Massapequa. He turned out Monday night to support the Jewish community — “We are one community,” he said.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” McMillan said. “One of the rabbis said it best, where it is a shame when it seems, right now, the price to being an American is dealing with a tragedy on a monthly basis.”
“It’s not just the Jewish people who are coming together,” said Ron Brown, former rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Merrick. “It is other religions, other faiths, other people of other backgrounds. They all come together, and are there to help each other.”
Richard Bowers, 46, the alleged shooter in Pittsburgh, according to multiple reports, had posted an anti-Jewish message on his Gab social media account that read: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” That was at 9:49 a.m.
Five minutes later, a 911 call was made about an active shooter. Police were dispatched. Shots were exchanged. Bullets from Bowers’s AR-15-style assault rifle and possibly three handguns struck 17 people, killing 11 and injuring six, including four police officers. His words after being taken into custody according to police were, “All these Jews need to die.”
Bowers, who was also shot, was charged by federal officials with 29 criminal counts, including obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs — a hate crime — and using a firearm to commit murder. He also faces state charges, including 11 counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation.
Anti-Semitism appeared to be a motive for the shooting, Bowers targeted the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society for his ire. It is a nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees.
Rabbi Shimon Kramer, of the Chabad of Merrick, Bellmore and Wantagh, said in a statement that the faithful should remember the words of Menachem Mendel Schneerson — Lubavitcher Rebbe — and in times of tragedy, “turn the darkness immediately into light by doing extra acts of love and kindness.”
“We will not be deterred by hate,” Kramer said, “and we will continue to help others, and make the world a better and brighter place.”
Jeff Bessen contributed to this story.