Tissues were passed around the congregation before the service started.
Beth Sholom Temple in Stafford was the fullest Rob Jobrack, president of the temple’s board of directors, said he had ever seen on Saturday evening, for an interfaith vigil for the victims of last week’s deadly shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
“We decided that this is not a memorial service, but a vigil,” said Beth Sholom’s rabbi, Jennifer Weiner. “We have cried too many tears for too many tragedies over the years. We need to be together now.”
Before her stood 11 candles, one for each person killed in the attack on the synagogue one week ago.
Each candle had been lit from the havdalah flame that had just marked the end of Shabbat, the seventh day of the Jewish week, observed from sunset on Friday to Saturday evening—so that the peace of this Shabbat, rather than the violence of the previous one, could go with the victims, Weiner said.
“Last Shabat, our holy time was shattered,” Weiner said. “Tonight, we gather as a community to stand up to hate.”
Leaders of other local faith communities—Episcopalian, Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Unitarian, Muslim and others—came forward one by one or in pairs to light each candle.
“It is heartening and encouraging to see people of so many different faiths here,” said Jobrack at the beginning of the vigil. “I want to say how grateful I am to all of you for being here.”
Rev. Joe Hensley, rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church, spoke following the lighting of the havdalah candle and a song ushering in the new week and closing the period of shiva, the traditional Jewish seven-day period of mourning after a death.
“We must do the work in good times to prepare for bad times,” he quoted. “It’s clear from the amount of people here that work has been done. We must come together to mourn the dead and reassure each other that we are still here.”
“We stand opposed to anyone who would use faith of any kind as a target to kill,” Hensley continued. “Hatred of any kind is not a path to the peace we seek.”
Weiner spoke about being at Beth Sholom last Saturday and suddenly feeling strongly that she needed to go to her office. There she heard voicemails from family and friends telling her what was happening in Pittsburgh and then learned that one of the victims, Joyce Feinberg, was the relative of a friend.
“It was that moment when it becomes not just ‘them,’ but ‘that one,’” Weiner said.
She said Feinberg was someone you knew would support you through difficult times, “a little piece of home” to everyone she met.
“Like her, we all need to stand up and tell everyone in this world, ‘Here I am. I am here for you,’ ” Weiner said.
After Weiner led the congregation in saying the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer that she explained thanks God for the holiness of each person, Jobrack spoke again.
“This is a time when every Jew in America wonders, was this event a weird, tragic interruption or a harbringer of things to come?” he said. “History has not been kind to us. It has almost never ended well. Is this the start of another bad ending?”
Then he asked fellow Jews to look around the room at those from different faith traditions gathered with them.
“I believe this country is better than Germany in the 1930s or 13th-century Spain,” Jobrack said. “I believe we can break the cycle.”
We all need to stand up and tell everyone in this world, “Here I am. I am here for you.” —RABBI JENNIFER WEINER