LIVINGSTON, NJ – In response to the deadliest attack on Jews in United States history, more than 2,200 people from throughout northern and central New Jersey came together at Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston on Sunday to mourn the deaths of 11 people who were murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh a day before during Shabbat services.
As of 5 p.m. on Sunday, two more victims and three police officers are still in the hospital with severe wounds. One wounded officer has been released from the hospital.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy was among the numerous political and religious leaders who either participated in or attended the vigil called “A Solemn Observance of Mourning and Outrage,” which was sponsored by Temple B’nai Abraham and the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest New Jersey.
Murphy said this act of terror should not be seen as an isolated act, but as part of the dramatic rise of anti-Semitism both in the United States and Europe. He cited an Anti-Defamation League statistic that shows anti-Semitic incidents in the US increased by 60 percent in 2017.
“We cannot allow the normalization of hate,” said Murphy. “We must prevent anyone who wants to harm or kill others from having access to guns.”
The governor urged people to challenge hate wherever it lurks and whenever it is spoken—even when it comes from the highest levels of government.
“We have a responsibility as Americans to make sure the rights of religious liberty on which our nation rests must never being compromised,” said Murphy.
Rabbi Clifford Kulwin, spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Abraham, called what happened on Saturday a “slaughter.”
“There has never been a slaughter in an American synagogue before,” said Kulwin. “Yesterday’s slaughter was unique. Was it a coincidence that it happened now? There is no coincidence.”
He said it was no coincidence because it happened at a time when the president compliments a political official for body slamming a journalist, condones when people call out “lock her up,” and says there were good people at Charlottesville who were among the crowd chanting “blood and soil—Jews will not replace us.”
Kulwin said the shooter acted with “confidence” because of this hate filled environment.
Looking at the politicians in the crowd, Kulwin said, “We can scream. We can cry. You can actually do something…All I can say is do it.”
Among the things Kulwin asked political leaders to do is to get guns out of the hands of those determined to kill and injure others, and to speak out strongly against hate speech at all levels of government and society.
“We are bleeding. What are you going to do to staunch the flow?” asked Kulwin, who added that politicians who do not act to stop the violence should be viewed as both complicit and guilty when terror events such as the synagogue slaughter take place.
“This is kind of a tribal moment,” he said. “You hurt my people, my family, you hurt me.”
Mark Wilf, chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, said, “Our hearts break for all of those killed and injured in Pittsburgh…It’s simply horrifying for Jewish people to be attacked during Shabbat…We must fight hatred and bigotry in any way we can.”
Dov Ben-Shimon, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, said that the federation is responding to this tragedy in several ways, including strengthening its community-wide emergency alert platform, increasing staff training and patrols to help keep synagogues and Jewish institutions secure, and advocating for more funds from Trenton to secure Jewish institutions.
“Jews are still the most targeted victims of hate crimes, and we must stand up and protect them,” said Ben-Shimon.
At the end of the vigil, Ben-Shimon solemnly read off the names of the people who perished during the attack: Joyce Fienberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Richard Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54; married couple Bernice Simon, 84, and Sylvan Simon, 86; Daniel Stein, 71; Melvin Wax, 88; and Irving Younger, 69.