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Ohio Jewish Communities Mourn Pittsburgh Synagogue Victims

Nick Castele
On Monday, October 29, Northeast Ohio Jewish leaders lit 11 candles to commemorate those killed in Pittsburgh.

The Anti-Defamation League says the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue over the weekend has left Ohio’s Jews in a state of shock. While synagogues step up security measures, congregations have held vigils around the state to remember those killed at the Tree Of Life.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Rabbi Jeremy Pappas estimates there are 100,000 Jewish people who live in Ohio, and says his group has been working to help the community process its grief.

“As the weeks unfold, we will obviously work with our partners in law enforcement to ensure that we are safe and secure as that is our utmost priority," Pappas says.

Pappas says there’s been a 57 percent spike in anti-Semitic activity among hate groups nationwide throughout the past year.

Synagogues around Central Ohio say they'reincreasing security measures in response to the shooting, but no specific threats have been reported.

The Jewish Community Center of Columbus held a vigil Sunday night for the victims of the shooting. The Columbus Jewish News reported that more than 500 people packed into the Schottenstein Auditorium, with crowds overflowing into the lobby.

Service leaders lit candles for each of the 11 shooting victims, and Mayor Andrew Ginther, Columbus City Council president Shannon Hardin and local Jewish leaders all spoke.

“Raise The Alarm For Every Minority”

Northeast Ohio held its own vigil for the Pittsburgh victims. On Monday night, mourners gathered at the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood, where public officials, Jewish religious leaders and clergy of other faiths expressed sympathy for the families of the shooting victims.

Speakers urged the congregants to confront violence and anti-Semitism.  

“We cannot stand silently by as hatred and bigotry grow daily,” said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish. “This weekend’s murders, though fueled by hatred against Jews, should raise the alarm for every minority, every person in America.”

Hundreds filled the community center’s Stonehill auditorium, with overflow seating at the nearby Temple-Tifereth Israel. Together, a group of Northeast Ohio rabbis lit 11 candless and led the congregation in prayer.  

Credit Nick Castele / ideastream
Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish bows his head during a vigil for the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting.

“We are all here to represent us, to support each other, to know that as one Jewish community, we stand strong, we stand strong always,” said Rabbi Allison Vann of Suburban Temple-Kol Ami.  

The suspect, Robert Bowers, made a first appearance in court on Monday. He faces federal hate crime charges. Bowers is alleged to have written anti-Semitic posts on social media before the shooting.  

Pappas draped a Pittsburgh Steelers “terrible towel” over the lectern before he spoke. He said that he was in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood after the shooting and heard a young boy ask his mother, “Is that the place where all the people were killed just because they went to shul?”

The boy, Pappas said, was right.

“Those 11 people were killed because they were Jewish and they went to synagogue on a Saturday morning,” Pappas said. “And it’s left to us, here in Cleveland, in Pittsburgh, all across the country, to pick up the pieces, to show up, to make sure that we eradicate hate from society.”

Christian leaders of several denominations spoke at the vigil in a show of solidarity. Pastor Richard Gibson of Elizabeth Baptist Church said the clergy grieved with the local Jewish community as well as with the families of two African-Americans shot to death in Jeffersontown, Ky., last week. Authorities are investigating those killings as a hate crime.

Masroor Malik of the Chagrin Valley Islamic Center said his congregation was willing to help the Jewish community here however it could.

“Brothers and sisters, we’re here to support you, we’re here to stand with you, we’re standing with you at a difficult time, as an ally, as a friend, as a family of the people of Abrahamic faith,” he said.

Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple urged those in attendance to speak out in the days to come.

“To speak with clarity and determination against hatred, anti-Semitism, violence, indifference and all those who establish a climate that would send a message to immigrants, Jews, anyone, that they are not welcome in this nation,” he said.

Credit Nick Castele / ideastream
Hundreds of people, including public officials, recited the names of the dead at the vigil in Beachwood.

To conclude the vigil, cantor David Malecki led the audience in singing Oseh Shalom, a Jewish prayer.

“He who makes peace in His high places, may He make peace for us,” the prayer reads in English. “And for all Israel, let us say, Amen.”

Solidarity In Dayton

Another vigil in honor of the Pittsburgh victims is scheduled for Tuesday in Dayton.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton is helping to organize Tuesday’s memorial service at Temple Israel, which it announced in a statement soon after the attack.

"The horrific shooting that took place at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this past Saturday has shaken our worldwide Jewish community to its core,” reads a post on the group’s Facebook page. “In this time of sorrow, we invite you to come together with us for a Greater Dayton Jewish Community Gathering to show support for our brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh."

Marshall Weiss, editor and publisher of the Jewish Federation-published Dayton Jewish Observer, says it’s important for people across faiths to come together to mourn the victims.

“To affirm in our community that we will not stand for hate. This is not our way. As a society we are much better than this, so it’s really a combination of a memorial service and a solidarity event," he says. "This is an unprecedented act of anti-Semitism in America against the Jewish community. An attack on any group – religious, ethic, cultural, national – is an attack on anyone.”

Weiss says many Dayton Jewish organizations have received an outpouring of support since the shooting. Miami Valley groups are also coordinating with each other and with law enforcement to assess their current security measures.

A spokesperson for the Dayton Police Department says the department is not aware of an uptick in threats directed to Dayton Jewish groups since the attack.

She says officers regularly offer so-called "run, hide, fight” active-shooter training, and building-security evaluations, to any groups that request it. Temple Israel officials say they've completed the training and evaluation. 

The memorial service is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. The Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton will be streaming the gathering live on Facebook for anyone who is not able to attend.

A Great Expense

Over in Akron, Rabbi Josh Brown from Temple Israel said the Pittsburgh shooting was very real and painful for his congregation. Some had previously attended the Pittsburgh synagogue and lost family members in Saturday’s attack.

“This is not just seeing terrible images,” Brown said. “This is getting a phone call that your aunt was murdered while she was praying in the Shabbat morning service.”

Brown said members were comforted by chalk drawings, notes and candles left at the front door of the Akron synagogue Sunday morning. He said temple leaders are considering increasing building security during regular services, which is not an easy decision to make.

“It comes at a great expense. I would say an expense financially, but it also comes at a great expense that we are focusing our time focusing on security, rather than focusing on building hope and love,” he said.

Community members can show their support at a vigil Thursday night at theShaw JCC campus and this weekend at the Akron Temple Israel’s Arts and Food Festival.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.
Anna joined ideastream in 2019, where she reports on health news for WCPN and WVIZ in Cleveland. She has also served as an associate producer for NewsDepth. Before that, Anna was a 2019 Carnegie-Knight News21 fellow at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.