Eleven candles were lit at a vigil in Pittsburgh Sunday evening to remember the 11 Jewish worshipers who were killed a year ago at the Tree of Life synagogue. The shooting was the worst anti-Semitic attack on American soil in U.S. history.
The list of those who died is long: Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger.
“We pray for the elevation of their souls,” Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said, reciting a prayer for the deceased, many of whom were his own congregants. “Let the earth not cover their blood and let there not be a place sufficient for their cries. Master of mercy, cover them in the cover of your wings forever.”
Myers leads the Tree of Life or L’Simcha Congregation, one of three congregations that shared the synagogue building and lost members in the attack. He was leading Saturday morning services on Oct. 27, 2018 when a gunman entered the sanctuary and opened fire.
“I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and I lived to come out of the other side,” Myers said. “On that fateful day, apparently God did not want me to be number 12.”
Rabbi Jonathan Perlman of New Light Congregation and Rabbi Doris Dyen of Congregation Dor Hadash offered a prayer for healing and a prayer for having survived danger. Family and friends shared favorite memories of the grandmothers, parents, brothers, children, and friends who were killed.
“When she was young, her and her friends used to crash weddings just to go and dance,” said Rose Mallinger’s daughter. “Every wedding, bar mitzvah, whatever, she was out there on the dance floor. She was leading dances, she just loved to dance.”
The synagogue was reportedly targeted by the gunman, in part, because of work Congregation Dor Hadash does in partnership with the refugee resettlement agency HIAS. Before the attack, a social media account that appeared to belong to the gunman posted, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people.”
“Xenophobia is as ancient as humanity, anti-Semitic hatred is also nothing new, it has been with us for hundreds of years,” said Dor Hadash member Anne-Marie Mizel Nelson. “It has not defeated us yet, and it will not defeat us now.”
People in attendance Sunday evening were quiet and still during most of the service, though attendees rose to their feet in a standing ovation when Rabbi Perlman called state and federal lawmakers to pass gun laws.
“I would like the government this year – federal and state government – to finally take action on gun control,” Perlman said. “Which they promised us.”
Months after the attack, Pittsburgh City Council passed gun control legislation that bans the use of certain ammunition, accessories and firearms. Other laws allow for temporary seizure of weapons if someone is a risk to themselves or others. The ordinances were quickly challenged in court by gun rights groups, including the NRA, and are not currently enforced.
Rabbi Perlman asked residents to care for and protect each other, not despite religious differences but because of them.
“We want to create friendship in this city,” he said. “I am hopeful that will happen, and that this incident last year is a trigger to us to get moving on this project. And to light the candle of hope, and to believe in it sincerely.”