Hundreds of mourners crowded a Brunswick Jewish house of worship Sunday to remember the victims of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history.
The pews of Temple Beth Tefilloh on Egmont Street were completely filled shortly after 6 p.m. as people continued to arrive at the memorial service for 11 people shot to death in a Pittsburgh, Pa., synagogue Saturday morning. The 20-minute attack unfolded during a brit milah — a ritual circumcision ceremony at which a baby boy receives his Hebrew name — and also wounded six people, including four police officers. The baby was not listed among the killed or hurt.
A 46-year-old alleged gunman, used an assault-style rifle and three handguns to shoot victims as he shouted, “All Jews must die,” inside the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
Sunday’s memorial gathering in Brunswick was attended by people of all walks of life, faith backgrounds and ages. Margaret Curry, a St. Simons Island resident, said she came to show her support for the Jewish community.
“I want to support people who have just experienced an incredible atrocity,” said Curry, a Pittsburgh native. “I know that area, Squirrel Hill. It’s a wonderful community. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Addressing mourners after leading prayers, Temple Beth Tefilloh’s rabbi, Rachael Bregman, spoke with poise, but occasionally seemed to fight back tears.
“A lot of people have asked me how I’m doing,” the rabbi said. “From a very dark place, I start by saying, ‘I wasn’t gunned down yesterday while leading text study in my own synagogue. So I guess I’m doing alright.’
“But the truth is, I don’t know how I’m doing,” she continued. “I don’t know how any of us are doing. But I do know what we need to be doing. Right now, it’s this. So thank you. Thank you for coming. Thank you for being here, because we need each other. More than any other moment. We need each other.”
The 42-year-old leader of Temple Beth Tefilloh and mother said she felt “safer” with the support and solidarity shown by the service’s attendees, but noted the frequency of mass shootings can leave people feeling increasingly hopeless and vulnerable.
“We are all here because we all know that sense of interconnectedness,” she said before referencing a series of other mass shootings across America. “We are a house of worship in Squirrel Hill. We are a school in Parkland. We are a concert in Las Vegas. We are a night out on the town in Orlando. We are people going to work in Oklahoma City, and we are the first and the last innocents in Columbine.
“I fear that we’ve become a radicalized America,” she said. “Look at how we can treat each other. Look at how we can talk to one another. Look at how we can live and let others live. A gunman in a grocery store? Pipe bombs? A synagogue? And that’s just this week.”
She was referring to a man who went into a Kentucky grocery store Wednesday and alleged shot two African-Americans in a race-motivated attack; later in the week, a Florida man was arrested for sending pipe bombs to prominent Democrats.
Bregman went on to read the names, ages and hometowns of those killed in Pittsburgh before calling on attendees to seek more understanding and express more love in their lives.
“I want everyone here to be radically anti-violence. Radically anti-hate. That looks like audacious love, audacious compassion and audacious self control,” Bregman said. “When we hate groups, it means that we think our way is right and their way is wrong. Look in your heart. Who do you look at and stand in judgment against?
“While we may debate policy, we cannot debate people. The antidote to this hate is love. It’s relationship over being right — and it’s hard. It’s hard not to scream into the inky blackness of the cloud, shake our fists and pour out our wrath against those who say things we don’t like. This is the place of self control.
“When you encounter and expression of life which makes you cringe, turn up the love. Turn up your curiosity. Turn up the power we have over ourselves. We must express our opinions, and we must express them as just that: opinions and not facts.
“We must do so with kindness and a gentle spirit … because everything that everyone believes comes from the same place. Love for our children. Hope for out future. Security for ourselves and those that we love. Seek understanding, and you will see the face of the other, and you may very well feel the presence of the divine.”