What the Pittsburgh shooter did not know when he gunned down 11 people Saturday was that the Jewish tree of life has deep roots and cannot easily be destroyed, Rabbi Darah Lerner said Tuesday night in Bangor at a memorial service for the victims.
About 400 members of the community packed the French Street shul to remember the men and women from the Tree of Life synagogue who were massacred while worshipping. Speakers called on people to commit to fighting anti-Semitism and speaking out against hate and violence.
The Reform congregation hosted an hourlong service that drew people from many religious traditions as well as nonbelievers. Representatives from the Jewish, Islamic, Christian and Native American traditions took part in the program, titled “Remembering the Victims of Tree of Synagogue in Pittsburgh.” Most did not mention President Donald Trump by name but did talk about the rise of “hate speech” since his election.
Rabbis from two Bangor synagogues said this was not the first act of anti-Semitism against Jews, nor would it be the last.
“This past Shabbat, a domestic terrorist entered Etz Chayim synagogue, the Tree of Life synagogue,” said Lerner, the rabbi at Beth El. “This terrorist declared war upon us and upon our tree of life. Rabbi Silverman said 60 years ago in response to the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Nashville, which was doing interracial justice work, ‘We will not yield to evil. We will not capitulate to fear. We will not surrender to violence.’”
Rabbi Bill Siemers of Congregation Beth Israel, a Conservative temple on York Street, said that when the gunman struck, “God’s peace was desecrated.”
“Our tears are not just tears of sorrow, we are consumed with anger” he said. “What happened on Saturday was not a tragedy, it was a crime and outrage. We are consumed with anger at the evil individual — may his name never be mentioned and forgotten — who hated and murdered.
“We are angry at a society that too often shrugs her shoulders at hatred, at a discourse that seems reluctant to even mention the words ‘anti-Semitism.’ We are angry at is a politics that seeks advantage by marginalizing the vulnerable — a politics that ignores and incites festering hatred — a politics that invites participants to shed their humanity in the pursuit of advantage”
Bangor Mayor Ben Sprague brought to the service the condolences of the city. He told the crowd that the soul of America has been broken.
“That anti-Semitism can be so close to the surface and not roundly and loudly condemned by all, that language that plays on stereotypes that are centuries-old have such prominent platforms, that anti-Semitic violence is by any metric on the rise in this country since 2016 [shows] the soul of our nation is broken.”
Dennis Marble, who said his religious tradition was “ill-defined,” said it was important for the community to come together after such a tragedy.
“It is important that we come together to comfort and console each other, and to say this matters to all of us, not just those who were murdered and their families,” Marble of Hampden said of why he attended.
Bangor joined other communities around Maine and the nation in holding a service to remember the Pittsburgh victims.
A candlelight vigil was held to remember the victims Tuesday night at Congregation Bet Ha’am in South Portland.
Adas Yoshuron, the synagogue in Rockland hosted a community vigil Monday night. Clifford Dacso, president of the board, issued a statement thanking the community of its support.
“We, the members of Adas Yoshuron Synagogue, are honored and humbled to have been able to provide a safe place for expressing our collective grief,” he said. “Importantly, we also derive strength from our friends at this time of calamity. Midcoast Maine has once again demonstrated that we are bigger than hate and discord. Thank you, neighbors.”
Adas Yoshuron was found in 1912 by a handful of Jewish immigrants, according to information posted on its website. Its membership has recently grown to 100 families.
The alleged shooter, Robert Gregory Bowers, 46, of Pittsburgh made his first appearance Monday in U.S. District Court after being released from a local hospital where he was treated for injuries suffered in his gunbattle with police, according to The Associated Press.
He is charged with 29 federal crimes, including 11 counts of obstruction of religious belief resulting in death. Bowers was not asked to enter pleas because he has not yet been indicted by a federal grand jury.
Bowers agreed Tuesday to be held without bail, according to information post on the court system’s electronic case filing system.
Federal prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty. Bowers allegedly told told police: “I just want to kill Jews” and “All these Jews need to die.”
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