Some 500 Americans and Israelis gathered Sunday night to sing somber songs in Hebrew and English at Jerusalem’s Zion Square in a candle-lit vigil in memory of the 11 victims of Saturday’s massacre at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh organized by The Meeting Place Dialogue Group, The Jerusalem Movement and the Hartman Institute Hevruta program.
Dina Winer from The Meeting Place Dialogue Group told The Jerusalem Post, “Whenever there’s a terrorist attack in Israel, we meet in Zion Square and it’s especially sad for us that we have to do this for an attack that took place in America. I think we have all gotten used to terrorist attacks being something we deal with in Israel, but I grew up in America and that didn’t feel like it was ever a part of living in America.”
Daniel, 18, from Los Angeles and a gap year student at the Hartman Institute Hevruta program told the Post
he wanted to do something to show his solidarity with the people of Pittsburgh. “I just said ‘text your friends about the event,’ and it just snowballed.”
Standing in the crowd, Rachael, 22 from Pittsburgh said “I think it’s amazing they are supporting Pittsburgh.” Although she did not attend the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, she said Pittsburgh’s Jewish community is tight knit. As a former counselor at a Jewish summer camp, she shared one of her camper’s grandmother was one of the 11 victims.
Currently teaching English with the Masa Israel program, she said this event “makes me miss Pittsburgh.”
Poignantly, a group of 11 women participating in the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Program from Pittsburgh joined the impromptu vigil.
Jenifer Weber from Pittsburgh learned of the shooting after Shabbat ended on Saturday night. “None of us are part of that congregation but we are a very interwoven community. It’s surreal. It’s upsetting not to be at home. But being here and having this immense support from israel behind us gives us so much hope is like shining a light on the darkness,” she said.
In Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square too, dozens of young Americans gathered to pray for the victims of the attack.
Paulee Manich, one of the organizers of the vigil, is from Pittsburgh and is now on a MASA program in Israel. “My mother went to Tree of Life, my grandmother. It’s a vital part of our Jewish world she said. “My mum was friends with over half the people who were killed.”
“And even if you weren’t friends with them, you know them,” she continued. “Pittsburgh has a large Jewish community but at the same time it’s very tight-knit and close no matter if you’re Reform, Conservative or Orthodox, you still know each other.”
Manich, who has been in Israel for two months, described feeling “incredibly useless” upon hearing the tragic news from back home. “I couldn’t do anything besides stream the news online and try to contact as many people as I could think of and at the same time people were texting me to check that me and my family were okay.” Her mother lives close to the synagogue but fortunately was not in the immediate vicinity at the time of the attack.
Manich and several of her friends used social media to organize the gathering in order to both give and receive the support of a community. “It’s incredible to see the amount of people who came out because I was feeling really alone and completely separated from the community that gave me my Jewish identity, and here I feel so uplifted and supported by completely random strangers I met on the Internet. It’s been a whirlwind of emotions.”
Brooke Davis, another one of the organizers, made aliyah from Pittsburgh. She knew both Rose Mallinger and Dan Stein who were murdered in the attack. “It’s a very close-knit Jewish community, everyone knows each other.... It’s just really tragic. We wanted to do this so people could come together and give support and get support and be here and be together.”
Davis described the distance between her and Pittsburgh as “surreal” during this difficult time. “I’m still taking it all in. It’s not easy being away but I was a big part of the Jewish community there, I worked at Jewish day camps and I know people at the JCC and they opened it and provided grief counselors - they’re doing what they can in a time of tragedy.”