SUMMIT, NJ - An overflow crowd estimated to exceed 700 persons gathered at Summit's Congregation Ohr Shalom - Summit Jewish Community Center on November 1, uniting in mourning the victims, praying for the injured and raising their collective voice against hatred and bigotry in the wake of the October 27 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, a tragedy that took the lives of 11 worshipers.
Songs, prayers and words reflected an outpouring of grief, support, love and resolve, with members of the Summit Interfaith Council and houses of worship reading a brief biographical homage for each victim as teens lit a candle in remembrance:
Joyce Feinberg - as read by Deborah Huggins
Joyce Fienberg was a researcher in education at the University of Pittsburgh, who treated her PhD students like family, we're told. Her late husband taught at CMU just down the road from Tree of Life. Those who knew her said she had a huge personality who lit up the room. Joyce Fienberg, we will remember.
Richard Gotfried - as read by Caroline Dean
Richard Gottfried. He was 65 and had a dental practice with his wife. He was Jewish, she was Catholic. They counseled other interfaith couples at her church about what to expect. Richard Gottfried, we will remember.
Rose Malinger - as read by Emilie Boggis
Rose Mallinger was 97 years old and lived her whole life in Pittsburgh. Rose lived for her children and for her grandchildren. She was, they said, a pillar of the community and of the congregation, vibrant, full of life. Her family gave this statement. To Bubbie [Yiddish for Grandma], family was everything. She knew her children, grandchildren and her great grandchild better than they knew themselves. She retained her sharp wit humor and intelligence to her last day. We will miss her presence and her company greatly. Rose Mallinger, we will remember.
Jerry Rabinowitz - as read by Jane McCready
Jerry Rabinowitz was doctor who's being remembered for treating all kinds of patients with kindness and compassion, particularly those with HIV/AIDS, at a time when fear of the virus was running high. One patient wrote, he often held our hands without rubber gloves, and always, always hugged us as we left his office. Another called him the sort of doctor who sent us on your way feeling better in all respects. Reports are he was shot as he rushed to help wounded congregants. Jerry Rabinowitz, we will remember.
Cecil & David Rosenthal - as read by Vanessa Chivers
Brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal were the unofficial greeters of the Tree of Life Congregation. They were always there- shaking hands, carrying the Torah scroll, organizing the prayer books and so much more. Both had special needs, Both were inseparable and adored in their community. Yet they were different -- David was quieter and loved anything to do with police officers or firefighters. Cecil was more outgoing and had a soft spot for children. Cecil and David Rosenthal, we will remember.
Bernice & Sylvan Simon - as read by Shawn Hogan
Bernice and Sylvan Simon were married at Tree of Life 62 years ago. Imagine that. Sylvan Simon was a retired accountant. Bernice was a nurse. A neighbor says that she loved classical music and devoted time to charitable work, charitable causes. They were always ready to help said a neighbor and always with a big smile. Bernice and Sylvan Simon, they died as they lived, together. We will remember..
Daniel Stein - as read by Corey Chivers
According to his son, Daniel Stein was a simple man who didn't require much. He regularly attended services at the synagogue, and recently became a grandfather. His nephew says he had a dry sense of humor. He was deeply loved and will be deeply missed. Daniel Stein, we will remember.
Melvin Wax - as read by Janet Maulbeck
Melvin Wax's sister says that she always used to kid him that he should have been a rabbi. Instead. he was a dedicated congregant attending Fridays and Saturdays. He would always be the first to arrive, she said, always in a good mood, always full of jokes. Melvin Wax, we will remember.
Irving Younger - as read by Don Steele
Irving Younger was a greeter with a handshake and a smile he once used as a realtor. He helped people find a seat. A friend says he was the kind of guy who'd walk down the street and say hi to everyone he saw. It served him well at one local cafe where he liked to go. No surprise, perhaps, he made himself the greeter there as well. Irving Younger, we will remember.
In his remarks to the crowd, Congregation Ohr Shalom - Summit Jewish Community Center Rabbi Avi Friedman said:
“How good it is when brothers and sisters sit together.
There’s an old rabbinic teaching “Kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh” – all of Israel, all Jews everywhere are interconnected one with another. I have always felt the power and the truth of that teaching. This past week, upon hearing about the horrific synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, I especially felt the power and the truth of that teaching.
My family and I spent six years in Pittsburgh, when I served the Tree of Life Congregation as one of their rabbis. During those six years, we spent virtually every Saturday morning in the building that was violently and hatefully defiled last Saturday morning. Although I was not there physically last Saturday morning, and my pain cannot compare to the pain of those on the ground in Pittsburgh, I was – and still am – in pain.
However, this past week, I realized it’s not just Jews who are interconnected. It’s ALL people of faith and ALL people of good conscience – those are not always the same thing – who are interconnected. While I always knew that, after this week, I KNOW it with my heart and soul in a new way.
I know it because of the many Christian clergy who reached out to Rabbi Gershon, Rabbi Orden and me to make sure we were okay.
I know it because of the one congregation that sent us flowers and a note of support.
I know it because of the one congregation that has offered to stand vigil outside our synagogue on the Sabbath in order to help us feel safe upon entering and exiting our sacred space on the Sabbath.
I know it because when I expressed to my interfaith colleagues my need for a service like this, ten of them re-arranged their schedules to come to a meeting to plan this vigil.
I know it because of the stranger who came up to me in the grocery store. He noticed my yarmulke and wanted to extend condolences to me.
I know it because of our mailman here at the synagogue who gave me a hug the first time he saw me after the shooting.
We are all interconnected by our grief over this senseless act of hatred – yet another in a growing list of senseless violent acts rooted in fear of those who are different than us in some inconsequential way. This time, it was because of the way they pray. A few days earlier, two people lost their lives because of the color of their skin. Other times it has been because of whom they love or the country in which they were born.
Yes, we grieve for the 11 victims... But we also grieve because we can all sense that something is changing in society. We can all sense that the hatreds that had been shamed into the shadows are now being displayed proudly in broad daylight for all to see.
And all of us who are different in some way are interconnected in our fear.
The best antidote for that fear is the sense of interconnectedness that I feel here tonight. The interconnectedness of love, of peace, of community. I am standing here tonight because of my connection to Pittsburgh. But I know I’m not the only one who feels that connection. We all feel a connection."
Friedman concluded by asking those who were born, lived in, have / had family, have / had friend or have visited Pittsburgh to rise. He then asked all those whose heart is in Pittsburgh after the tragedy to rise.
With all standing, Friedman said, "We all stand here interconnected to say no to hate, to violence and division and to say yes to love, to peace and community. Hold the hands of the person or persons next to you, feel that connection – and let us all say AMEN."