Davis community responds to attack on Pittsburgh synagogue

Davis locals gather at Congregation Bet Haverim to honor those who died in the Pittsburgh attack.

By Claire Stevens,
BlueDevilHUB.com Editor–

A gunman opened fire on the Tree of Life Congregation at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, on Oct. 27. According to the Associated Press, the attack, which resulted in the deaths of 11 and injury of 6 others, including 4 police officers, was one of the deadliest attacks on Jews in American history.

Further investigation by the AP of the suspected shooter uncovered Neo-nazi symbols and ideas on a social media profile. The AP also reports the suspect has since been charged with 29 federal counts, including hate crimes.

The tragedy spurred a nationwide response, including in Davis.

Community members gather
The Celebration of Abraham, an interfaith organization, held a healing service on Oct. 30 at Congregation Bet Haverim. The service included song, prayer and reflections from religious leaders in the community.

The room was full for the 6 p.m. event, with the pew rows packed and others standing in the aisles.

The service began with a welcome from Rabbi Greg Wolfe and Helen Roland, chair of The Celebration of Abraham.

“I know that without a doubt that the hearts of all those cruelly taken from us continue to beat within each one of us. Their hopes, their dreams, their yearnings and their passions will live through us,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe also noted the presence of the Davis City Council members, who had postponed their meeting to be present at the service.

The room erupted in chatter as Wolfe concluded his words by asking that everyone in the room introduce themselves to someone new and share a hope they have for the future of the world.

The service continued with 11 community members, among them Superintendent John Bowes and Congressman John Garamendi, gathering to each light a candle for each victim of the attack. As the candles were lit, the victims’ names and ages were read to the crowd.

Wolfe also asked for those with a connection to Pittsburgh to stand for a portion of the candle lighting.

Next came a series of songs, poems, reflections and prayers. Religious leaders from the three Abrahamic religions- Christianity, Judaism and Islam- spoke.

The speakers included Arielle Zoken, vice president of the UC Davis Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish-interest sorority. “What can you do tonight to start igniting the change? When you get home tonight make a list of three goals for yourself to fight prejudice,” she said.

Kamal Lemseffer read a translation of a Quran verse, “After a difficult time comes ease.”
Both English and Hebrew songs were performed throughout the night, and the crowd followed along with song books distributed at the entrance.

Wolfe closed the night with a few final thoughts. “We can create the world we are dreaming of together,” Wolfe said.

Finally, a Kaddish prayer and a performance of “Keep on Believing” by the Davis Threshold Choir ended the service.

Students react
The Jewish Student Union discussed the shooting at its Oct. 31 meeting.

JSU president junior Brandon Folb began the meeting by explaining the details of Saturday’s events and then opening up the discussion for thoughts or questions.

Folb also noted the responses to the attack, like the service at Bet Haverim and support from other communities. “It’s been nice to see people be so supportive after the attack,” he said.

Principal Tom McHale and Kate Snow, Coordinator of Climate Activities at the district, were both in attendance at the meeting.

Snow brought up a student task force last year that included members of the JSU, Black Student Union, and Genders and Sexualities Alliance and focused on issues including educating and reducing prejudice.

“We will support you in anyway we can,” McHale said.

The discussion consisted mostly of students asking questions about the shooting, as well as noting recent rise in antisemitism in the past year. Students also mentioned actions the JSU could take in response such as an assembly or guest speaker.

Folb recounted his own reaction when he heard the news on Saturday. He said he felt surprised and upset.

“That easily could have been me,” Folb said, in reference to the fact that he also attended temple just weeks before the attack and had a cousin who was right outside of where the attack happened.

However, he did recognize the reassurance of the outpouring of support since the attack,  that “there are still good people.”

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