Congregants from New Jersey spend Shabbat with TOL*OLS
After Tree of LifeA gesture of solidarity

Congregants from New Jersey spend Shabbat with TOL*OLS

Group came to support fellow Jews and find 'closure' for themselves.

Members of Temple Shalom visit the Tree of Life synagogue building
(Photo provided by Michelle Goldson)
Members of Temple Shalom visit the Tree of Life synagogue building (Photo provided by Michelle Goldson)

In a gesture of solidarity — and to find comfort for themselves — 25 members of a New Jersey congregation traveled to Pittsburgh the weekend of April 12 to join members of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha for Shabbat.

News of the October 27 massacre “was devastating for us,” said Howie Goodkin, a past president of the Reform Temple Shalom in Succasunna, N.J., who organized the trip.

After the shooting in Pittsburgh, which left 11 people dead and six wounded, the members of Temple Shalom — like so many other congregations around the world — wanted to take positive action in response. Two days after the massacre, the congregation held a solidarity interfaith vigil attended by hundreds of people, according to Goodkin.

The congregation also got to work planning a memorial to those Jews killed in Pittsburgh to be placed in the synagogue’s sanctuary.

And on Friday, April 12, a group of congregants headed to Pittsburgh, along with their rabbi/cantor, Inna Serebro-Litvak.

“We went to connect and to let them know they are not alone,” Goodkin said.

Prior to the Friday night TOL*OLS service, held at Rodef Shalom Congregation, the Temple Shalom members visited the Tree of Life synagogue building, where they recited the Mourners’ Kaddish “to have some closure for ourselves,” Goodkin said. “I think all of us felt better.”

In addition to services Friday night, the New Jersey group attended Saturday morning services with TOL*OLS, and sponsored the kiddish lunch.

“It was just a great experience, just being part of a community coming together,” Goodkin said.

“It was comforting to us,” he added, praising the warmth of the TOL*OLS congregants. “My expectations were high, but they were surpassed. It felt like they were neighbors to us.”

The TOL*OLS congregants were “uplifted by the warmth and loving kindness expressed by Temple Shalom,” said Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers in an email. “Their desire to just be with us created a holy moment by their presence. The compassion of Rabbi Inna Serebro-Litvak and the past president Howard Goodkin moved both congregations. We are thankful for the journey they made to Pittsburgh.”

This is not the first time a caravan of congregants from another city has joined TOL*OLS for Shabbat since Oct. 27. In December, a group of Jews from Youngstown, Ohio, came here as well. Youngstown’s Congregation Rodef Sholom sponsored a kiddish luncheon following services, partially funded by the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation.

“Will go back out [to Pittsburgh] at some point,” said Temple Shalom’s Goodkin. “We just want to be with great people.” PJC

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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