Community reacts to Poway synagogue shooting
DayenuAnother Vigil

Community reacts to Poway synagogue shooting

Local leaders call for action and self-care after California attack.

Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, a survivor of the Tree of Life attack, recited the Mi Sheberach prayer  and called for the complete healing of those
injured at the Chabad of Poway attack. Photo by Joshua Franzos
Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, a survivor of the Tree of Life attack, recited the Mi Sheberach prayer and called for the complete healing of those injured at the Chabad of Poway attack. Photo by Joshua Franzos

Trauma therapists made it clear that communal healing would take time. The road to recovery from Oct. 27, 2018, they said, could last months or years. Less imaginable was that the pathway would require traversing similar horror, as six months after 11 Jews were gunned down inside the Tree of Life building another Jew was killed 2,400 miles west at the Chabad of Poway in California.

Adding painful overlap to Lori Gilbert-Kaye’s murder inside the seemingly safe space of a San Diego County synagogue was that April 27 was Shabbat and the eighth day of Passover — as one of three designated days to publicly say the Yizkor prayer, the eighth day of Passover was the first opportunity to recite the memorial hymns since Oct. 27.
Apart from the timing of Gilbert-Kaye’s slaying, the realization that a Jew in California could be struck down in similar fashion to the Pittsburgh 11 was shocking and disturbing, said Jeffrey Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

During an April 29 vigil at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, Finkelstein matched his remarks to those offered a half-year earlier by thanking attendees for demonstrating the community’s strength and coming out after “a raging anti-Semite shot up a holy place of worship on Shabbat and murdered our extended Jewish family.”

Visibly irritated, Finkelstein continued, “These are the exact words, the exact words, I spoke at Soldiers and Sailors Hall on Oct. 28. Unfortunately, they still resonate today. I’m sick and tired and frustrated and angry that I have to use them again.”

Meryl Ainsman, Federation’s board chair, was similarly disturbed. “Enough is enough,” she announced from a lectern inside the JCC’s Katz Theater.
Other speakers at the April 29 event called for action.

We should be “thinking about what are we doing with these precious moments,” said Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, of Chabad Lubavitch of Western Pennsylvania. “What are we doing to make the world better?”

“It takes courage to do so many things that need to happen,” echoed Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “Thoughts and prayers are no longer enough. [I’m] tired of thoughts and prayers. We need some action.”

Andrea Wedner, left, and Michele Rosenthal light a candle in memory of Lori Gilbert-Kaye during an April 29 vigil at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s Katz Theater. Photo by Joshua Franzos

Fitzgerald recalled how two evenings earlier he stood on the corner of Shady and Wilkins avenues and repeated an exercise he and others had done six months earlier on the corner of Shady and Forbes avenues. In each setting, a Saturday evening vigil was held in the aftermath of terror. Songs were sung and speeches were made, but while rain fell both nights, the recent gathering possessed a more agitated tone.

Enmeshed in the scores of people on Saturday evening, April 27, Rabbi James Gibson of Temple Sinai clutched a microphone and invoked the Hebrew word often associated with Passover.

“Dayenu,” said Gibson. Enough.

Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto has had enough, too. He tweeted a photo of those standing near the corner of Shady and Wilkins avenues on Saturday, April 27, and wrote, “We gather. Again. Always. Until we drive hate speech & acts of hate out of our city, our state, our nation, our world.”

Days earlier, Peduto had spoken at Heinz Memorial Chapel during an interfaith vigil for the 253 people killed on April 21 in Sri Lanka. On Saturday evening, as he stood in Squirrel Hill, Peduto returned to a familiar trope when speaking with reporters.

“You have to understand that once you accept hate speech, hate crime is going to happen. It is the inevitable outcome of hate speech,” he said.

After taking the stage at the April 29 vigil in Katz Theater, he reinforced that sentiment.

“We have to take action with solutions. We have a problem. There’s a bad problem that’s happening in this country. There’s a lot of hate that’s out there. We can’t accept it. We can’t say it’s OK or it’s funny. We can’t look the other way and allow it to be normal. We have to place it back to where it was before: unacceptable, because we know that hate speech leads to hate crimes and if we allow the erosion to occur, we’ll see it again and again and again,” he said.

An approach can be learned from the teaching of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, said Sara and Shmuel Weinstein of Chabad House on Campus in a statement: “Cold-blooded, fanatical, baseless, relentless hatred can only be uprooted by hitting its core. We must saturate our world with pure, undiscriminating, uninhibited, unyielding acts of love and kindness and teach that to all our children, in our schools and homes. Even a little bit of light can dispel much darkness, and a lot of light can dispel much more. Now is the time to saturate.”

Now is also the time for self-care, said Jordan Golin, president and CEO of Jewish Family and Community Services.

“The truth is that most of us haven’t completely recovered from Oct. 27. We are still somewhere within that continuum, from injury to recovery. Our wounds are fresh. Many of us still struggle with anxiety, depression, irritability, trouble sleeping at night, and even some of us who we thought we were doing pretty OK last week, we aren’t doing as well this week,” he said. “As strong as we are as individuals and as a community, we can only take so much before we reach our breaking point.”

Peduto agreed, and said, “When you’re mayor, it has a toll on you as well. I mean, if you are around trauma and sadness, it’s basically impossible to try to find peace and happiness. So you just have to, as the counselor said, be able to find your way of doing what it is that makes you better. … You have to gravitate toward that and find something to sort of allow you to swim out of the rapid water because it will consume you.”

Peduto is worried about Pittsburghers facing yet another trauma. “This weekend was already going to be hard enough without what happened in Poway,” he said. “Right now this is a journey through the rough waters of life and you keep paddling.”

Those in the community need to take care of themselves, reiterated Golin.

“My plea to you is this,” he said, “don’t put off taking care of yourselves until you reach that breaking point. If you’re struggling emotionally, if you’re having more symptoms of anxiety and depression, now is the time to get help.”

Anyone seeking support is encouraged to call JFCS Counseling Services at 412-422-7200. PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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