By Neal Earley
OLNEY — For members of the Jewish community and many others, Saturday’s massacre of 11 Jews at a synagogue in Pittsburgh by an alleged white supremacist terrorist is a dark sign of the times – that anti-Semitism, racism and violence are on the rise in America and are driven in part by toxic political discourse.
On Tuesday night, about a thousand people gathered in B’nai Shalom of Olney to pay their respects to the 11 people gunned down at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh.
The vigil paid respect to those 11 people killed Saturday, after an armed intruder stormed into a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, later telling a SWAT operator that he wanted “all Jews to die.”
For Rabbi Dina Rosenberg, Saturday’s massacre is a sign that violent forms of anti-Semitism are still alive within the American conscience.
“Hours later, days later, I still cannot comprehend how America in 2018 can be a fertile ground for murdering Jews,” Rosenberg said.
In solidarity and remembrance, people sang Jewish songs and read prayers. Rosenberg asked Jews in response “to do Jewish” – attend services on the Sabbath, read the Torah and pray. She called outward displays of Jewish identity “subversive” and a defiant response to
“The best response to anti-Semites is to do Jewish,” Rosenberg said. “To do Jewish as people have fought and died for your ability to do just that.”
At the vigil, elected officials, including Rep. John Sarbanes (D-3), Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, Council member Nancy Navarro (D-4) and Montgomery County Sheriff Darren M. Popkin lit 11 candles in remembrance of the 11 victims.
Rosenberg then read the names of the victims aloud, as the crowd of around 1000 people stood in silence:
Police have identified the victims in the shooting as:
- David Rosenthal, 54
- Cecil Rosenthal, 59
- Richard Gottfried, 65
- Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
- Irving Younger, 69
- Daniel Stein, 71
- Joyce Fienberg, 75
- Bernice Simon, 84
- Sylvan Simon, 86
- Melvin Wax, 88
- Rose Mallinger, 97
Also on Tuesday, President Trump and others gathered for a vigil in Pittsburgh for the victims, laying stones at the graves of those 11 victims, as is customary in Jewish tradition.
But some at Tuesday night’s vigil in Olney took aim at Trump, blaming him for sowing division and hatred in America. Sarbanes kept his brief speech apolitical, calling for Americans to stand against bigotry, hatred and anti-Semitism.
“We’ve gotten used to using this refrain when these sorts of things happen, where we say ‘this is not who we are. This is not what America is.’ But I think we’re beginning to worry this is what America is becoming if we don’t stand up,” Sarbanes said.
Rev. Mansfield “Kasey” Kaseman, community liaison for the Montgomery County Faith Community Advisory Community, said the massacre is a sign that the president has promoted hatred in America.
While Trump has spoken about needing to combat the increasing tide of anti-Semitism, many Jewish leaders have criticized him for his comments, particularly those after a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, where an alt-right protestor was charged for the murder of a peaceful counter-protestor. After the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, where counter-protestors clashed with members of the alt-right, Trump said there were good people on “both sides.”
“I’m certainly not optimistic about our president changing his dangerous rhetoric appealing to prejudice and hate,” Kaseman said. “That’s not changed since the campaign, and I don’t expect it to change anytime in the future.”