In the wake of the Oct. 27 shooting that left 11 people dead at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh, 11 religious leaders from across Nassau County led an interfaith memorial at Temple B’nai Torah in Wantagh last Sunday. A crowd of around 300 joined the Reform Jewish congregation that merged with East Meadow’s Temple Emanu-El on June 10.
Before reading the prayer “Give Me Your Hand” by Rabbi Eric Weiss, the Rev. Christopher Hofer, of the Church of St. Jude in Wantagh, said that the Pittsburgh gunman, an outspoken anti-Semite, used his two hands to kill 11 people, but “many hands were used to comfort.”
After receiving numerous messages of support from neighboring faith leaders, Rabbi Daniel Bar-Nahum, of Temple B’nai Torah, said he wanted to bring together Nassau County residents of various religions for a rally against hate. “We knew that there was a need in the community to do this,” he said, adding that he first heard about the shooting while on a trip to Hungary with several members of his congregation. What made the news resonate even more, Bar-Nahum said, was that they had been visiting the country’s Holocaust memorial sites.
“There can be no doubt that the divisive vitriol espoused by many leaders of our nation in recent months has led to these horrific consequences,” read a letter the rabbi sent to his congregation the day of the shooting. It continued, “Many of us are in Central Europe, witnessing first-hand what happens when anti-Semitism and overt nationalism flourish and become the political default.”
A common theme at the memorial service was that the Jewish community would not retreat in the face of violence against it. “We are here to send a message that cowering in fear, burrowing in the ground and retreating from society will not happen,” Les Kule, president of Temple B’nai Torah, told the crowd.
Bar-Nahum said that the temple would re-evaluate its security system and determine what could be improved. Several armed police officers were stationed outside the temple during the service — a measure that the rabbi said might become more common at future events.
“We’re not going to stop doing what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re going to continue to recognize the freedom that our country gave us. We’re also going to recognize that this wasn’t an isolated incident. We are aware that anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise. We’re not going to stop. We’re not going to be pushed away. But we’re going to remain vigilant.”
This wasn’t the first time local leaders from disparate faiths united in response to a hate-motivated act of violence. On Aug. 26, 2017, roughly two weeks after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., Wantagh Memorial Congregational Church hosted a vigil.
Bar-Nahum said he was looking forward to hosting and speaking at more interfaith ceremonies in more positive circumstances, such as holidays and other important gatherings. “If our faith leaders are close,” he said, “our communities will be close.”