A day after another devastating mass shooting on American soil, this time at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, members of the Jewish community gathered at the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common. With broken hearts and stricken souls, they tried to process the tragedy in the only way they could, among others who best understood their grief.
The rally, sponsored by Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC), the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts and the Anti-Defamation League, included remarks by Gov. Charlie Baker; Mayor Martin J. Walsh; Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy; Treasurer Deb Goldberg; Boston Police Commissioner William Gross; Cardinal Sean O’Malley; Shayk Yasir Fahmy of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center; Anthony Barsamian, president of the Massachusetts Council of Churches; and Consul General of Israel to New England Ze’ev Boker.
“We are as devastated as we are horrified,” read a CJP/JCRC statement that was posted on JewishBoston.com on the day of the shooting, which took the lives of 11 congregants and wounded four police officers and two others. ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt called it the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.
“We have reached out to the Pittsburgh Jewish community to express our support,” the CJP/JCRC statement continued. “We pray that the families of the victims find comfort during this unimaginably painful time and for the full recovery of the wounded. And we offer our gratitude to the brave first responders in Pittsburgh who risked their lives to prevent further bloodshed.”
At Parkman Bandstand, the historic site of civil rights and antiwar demonstrations, as well as myriad political rallies and public ceremonies and celebrations, attendees formed large circles of prayer and song.
Off to the side, Noah Slovin, Yaeli and Avi Foint of Cambridge and Somerville and Naomi Silbermintz of Hartford, who had heard about the rally on social media, sang “Gesher Tzar Me’od (The World is a Narrow Bridge)” by Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav: “Kol ha-o-lam ku-lo gesher tzar me’od. V’ha-i-kar lo l’fached klal. The whole world is a very narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid.”
“It was not just the Jewish community that came out,” said Silbermintz, “because it’s a universal problem.”
Rabbi Shmuel Posner stood by a booth with members of the Chabad House of Greater Boston, warmly greeting passersby, offering tefillin wrappings and prayer, as well as much-needed hospitality. “You must come for a Shabbas meal,” he urged several young men who stopped by.
“Today we are in mourning for those that were taken from us so horrifically,” he said. “However, with that in mind, we are motivated to do more goodness and kindness, and to bring some light to the world of every person who feels the severity of what happened yesterday.” In the wake of the tragedy, Posner advocated more mitzvot “between man and Hashem, and between man and man,” he said.
“In our close-knit Jewish communal world, many of us have friends and family in Pittsburgh, and know congregants at the Tree of Life Synagogue,” said the CJP/JCRC statement. “These are our brothers and sisters, our friends, our family, and our children.”
A photographer from Boston who said he was aspiring to become a visual media documentarian, photojournalist and blogger, chose to remain anonymous. “We know that these things should not happen,” he said. “My father was a Holocaust survivor from Kielce, Poland, who lost his whole family. We must support the community.”
“I think it’s very easy to become numb to these acts of violence, and it’s important to be in community,” said David Fisher from Cambridge, who said he was affiliated with Nehar Shalom Community Synagogue of Jamaica Plain.
What were his feelings about the motivation of the shooter?
“The Jewish community has always stood for the welcoming of immigrants,” Fisher responded, adding that his grandfather was the chief engineer of the 1984-86 centennial restoration of the Statue of Liberty. “It’s not a torch that we are going to put down any time soon,” he said.
Richard Vide of Malden, who said he was Catholic and had heard about the event on WBUR and WBZ, remained as the gathering dissipated. “I was interested in hearing what the speakers said today,” he said. “Obviously, it was going to be a sad and solemn occasion. But there were profound statements of sympathy, support and solidarity in the face of such a tragedy.”
Vide said the speeches differed, but the common theme was strength and courage.
“Today, solidarity stood out after the tragedy in Pittsburgh, and it was exactly what I needed,” said Sam, a Holocaust survivor from Arlington who had come there from the biannual Cafe Europa luncheon at Temple Reyim sponsored by the German Consulate General Boston. “Hearing from our Boston leaders and clerics, the silence and the prayers, and holding hands and shoulders while singing tunes together made me feel stronger, with hope for better days to come.”
How does one grapple with such a devastating loss, and how could it happen?
“It was obvious that the shooter held strongly anti-Semitic views and was prepared to translate them into criminal action,” said Vide. “It is not hopeless, but in the face of all we’ve experienced in this country, all the shootings in public places that have taken many dozens of lives, it is logical that restricted access to assault weapons could have prevented or at least made these tragedies less serious. These weapons that are chambered with many rounds of ammunition and are designed to fire rapidly have no place in civilian use.”
He quoted former Vice President Joe Biden, who said after the December 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, “Weapons that are meant for the theater of war have no place in a theater.”
Nor a high school, nor a concert, nor a synagogue.
“Anti-Semitism and hatred in its many forms are antithetical to our faith and an affront to humanity,” the CJP/JCRC statement concluded. “For the victims, we will mourn. For the living, we will continue to fight for a better, more just world. May the memories of those we lost today be a blessing.”
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