Members of the area’s Jewish community and their supporters convened at the city’s Holocaust Memorial on Sunday afternoon in equal measure to remember those killed in Pittsburgh and to speak out against the current discourse that many said has led to such horrific acts.
“We are a mourning people and a fighting people,” one of the rally’s organizers, Jonah ben Avraham, told the crowd, referring to Jewish traditions of honoring the dead as well as of protest.
The setting — which features railroad tracks, like those on which Jews traveled to their deaths during the Holocaust — was an appropriate place to honor the 11 people who had been murdered during a naming ceremony at a Jewish synagogue, said Zella Adams, 70. “It’s commemorating the death of 6 million Jews. … It seems like an obvious place to gather when Jews have been murdered.”
Adams and others blamed President Donald Trump for emboldening members of far-right hate groups to take violence against minorities such as Jews. “The current president he gives license, he gives voice himself to these [racist] feelings,” said Vincent Masi, 63 of Baltimore. Masi called Trump’s suggestion that synagogues needed to have armed guards “outrageous.”
Non-Jewish clergy, laypeople and activists came to show solidarity. Lutheran deacon Don Helfer wore a Messianic prayer shawl over his red vestments. The shawl, which features Hebrew script, helps him to connect with God during prayer. “I thought bringing this today would hold a lot meaning,” he said.
Zainab Chaudry of the Council on American-Islamic Relations read from Martin Niemoller’s poem, “First they came.” “Religious freedom is under attack in this country,” she said.
Erica Lewis, 38, of Owings Mills said she came as a member of multiple oppressed groups. “I get it.” Rallies like Sunday’s were a reminder that “we’re all pretty much part of the same family, we just look different.”
The crowd sang a number of Hebrew hymns, including Kol Ha'Olam Kulo, or “The whole world is a narrow bridge,” a song at turns plaintive and upbeat. Steven Silvern, 69, of Baltimore clapped his hands to the music as he sat on the memorial’s fountain. “It’s a kind of aphorism that says, basically, no matter what happens, we have a job to do and we can’t remove ourselves from that task,” Silvern said. “The main point is to have no fear at all.”