On the eve of the first Sabbath since a gunman killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue, about 300 people gathered for an interfaith ceremony with Baltimore’s Jewish community to take a collective stand against anti-Semitism and “the poison of hate, no matter what form it takes,” as one speaker said.
Gov. Larry Hogan, U.S. senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, Mayor Catherine Pugh, Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, and several local rabbis were among the officials and religious leaders who offered words of mourning — and of hope — during a one-hour ceremony at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore.
Sponsored by The Associated and the Baltimore Jewish Council, the gathering took the form of an Oneg Shabbat, an informal celebration some Jews observe before the start of weekend Sabbath services that typically features socializing, singing, conversation and sharing of traditional food.
Local Jewish organizations have dubbed this weekend Solidarity Shabbat — a time of praying, demonstrating support and raising funds for the victims of the Oct. 27 shooting.
Friday’s Oneg Shabbat featured a slate of speakers who shared prayers and reflections, each followed by the speaker’s lighting of a candle in honor of one of the victims of last weekend’s massacre.
Rabbi Moshe Hauer of Congregation Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion, an Orthodox synagogue, set a tone of somber gratitude when he thanked those present for their show of sympathy in the wake of the “unthinkable” attack on the Tree of Life congregation.
He described the Jewish community at large as “the wandering Jews,” a people who for thousands of years “have hardly been able to stay in any single place for a very long time” before “being forced to leave,” often under violent circumstances. That history, he said, leaves many Jews in a state of something like perpetual anxiety.
“It’s traditional, if something of a routine, to acknowledge the presence of elected officials, communal leaders and leaders of the faith community at gatherings like these,” he said. “But today I want to express to you … that our appreciation today is nothing close to routine. That your presence here is not just another function — that it means the world to us.”
He then lit a candle in remembrance of Richard Gottfried, a 65-year-old dentist who was killed along with 10 other worshippers.
Hogan called for more of the Jewish tradition of “tikkun olam” — acts of kindness meant to heal the world — and firm solidarity among all people against acts of evil.
Van Hollen decried “the poison of hate” toward people of different faiths, as well as refugees.
Cardin, a University of Pittsburgh alumnus and a longtime member of Baltimore’s Jewish community, said “the attack on Pittsburgh was an attack on all of us. We are grateful for the outpouring from the interfaith communities.”
Cardin attributed the attack, in part, to what he called the “hate-mongering” that has come to dominate public discourse.
The gunman attacked the Pittsburgh synagogue with an assault-style rifle and three handguns, opening fire just before 10 a.m. as friends and family members gathered for services. Police said the suspect, Robert Bowers, shouted “All Jews must die” as he began shooting. He has been charged with 29 felony counts in one of the deadliest attacks on Jews in U.S. history.
Friday’s gathering took place on the same day as the last of the funerals for the Pittsburgh victims, a service for 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, a former longtime secretary at Tree of Life.
Bishop Mark Brennan, auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, and Sutton both pointed out that Friday was All Souls’ Day, a day on which Christians remember those who have died.
“On the Feast of All Souls, we remember all souls, no matter their race, gender, religion or color,” said Sutton, describing those who were killed last weekend as “my people.”
As the crowd filed out, 82-year-old David Liebman said the event reminded him of March 30, 1981, the day would-be assassin John Hinckley shot and nearly killed then-President Ronald Reagan.
“At the time, someone made the comment, ‘Mr. President, we’re all Republicans now,’” said Liebman, a member of Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Baltimore. “Today is like that. If you’re black, this could have happened at a black church. If you’re Catholic, it could have been a Catholic church. We’re all Jewish today.”
Then, like many at the gathering, he fixed his thoughts on the future.
“We must always be on guard. We must always be prayerful. And we must always be ready to speak out,” he said.