Four congregations of the Plattsburgh community united inside Temple Beth Israel Friday evening for an interfaith prayer service to remember and mourn the lives lost during the deadliest attack against the Jewish community in U.S. history.
On the morning of Oct. 27, 11 people were killed and six injured during Shabbat prayer services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, the suspect opened fire inside the synagogue, shouting anti-semitic slurs.
The New York Times reported that federal officials charged the gunman, known for spreading anti-semitism online prior to the attack, with 29 criminal counts and a number of state charges, including 11 counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation.
At 7 p.m., Pastor Greg Huth of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church Rev. Dr. Tim Luoma and Monsignor Dennis Duprey of St. Peter’s Church gave their own sermons in support of the Plattsburgh Jewish community in light of the Pittsburgh massacre. The pastors preached their individual messages to a gathering overcapacity of nearly 150 people.
After a welcome from Huth on behalf of the interfaith community, Luoma began the service with his personal confession, wishing he had done more to speak up against anti-semitism in the past and believing the Christian community had, “turned a blind eye and a deaf ear.”
Luoma implored the people to start speaking up when witnessing hatred toward others.
“Whatever it is that you know in your heart is wrong, no longer [should you] let it slide,” Luoma said. “I am sad, I am angry, I am disappointed, and I say, ‘No more shall I be silent.’”
Duprey spoke his message next, expressing an honor to be apart of a common fellowship where each congregation could come together and bond over a mutual love of God in times of loss and hardship.
“We want you to know, our dear Jewish brothers and sisters, that we stand with you in your grief,” Duprey said. “We want you to know that we will stand next to you, not just around you, and we will walk with you toward the one that is love — toward God.”
Psalms, poetry, historical reading and song were read in between sermons, such as a church hymn “Peace is Flowing Like a River” and a reading of a speech by George Washington to the Hebrew congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790.
After Duprey, Temple Beth Israel’s rabbi David Kominsky spoke of his thankfulness for the support from the interfaith community, when the history of the Jews who have been killed throughout history come back into light.
“And to all those Jews, we add the 11 who died in Pittsburgh last week,” Kominsky said.
However, Kominsky said the killings of history were not met with the loving support of other faith communities like Friday night’s gathering was.
“There was no outpouring [of support] during the Holocaust,” Kominsky said. “What is taking place here tonight is part of a larger movement, a larger moment, in which we are being supported as Jews by our non-Jewish neighbors and friends. We are blessed through all of you.”
Kominsky ended his portion of the service by reading Psalm 23, more commonly known as “The Lord is My Shepherd,” in both English and Hebrew to accommodate both religions at the temple.
In attendance at the service was Plattsburgh State senior global supply chain management major and president of PSUC’s Jewish Student Union, Hillel, Paige Sangiorgio.
Sangiorgio said she was pleased with the service’s turnout.
“This was one of the first times in a very long time that the temple was filled,” Sangiorgio said. “Typically it’s a couple of rows for the services we attend on Fridays or Saturdays.”
Hillel and Temple Beth Israel have a close relationship; with Kominsky as the club’s co-adviser, they’re invited to celebrate Jewish holidays and services at the temple.
Sangiorgio said the service really showed how the interfaith community can come together after such a sad event.
“It shows that people care,” she said. “This issue has sparked such a conversation that people are willing to come on a Friday night, where they might have other events, but they know that this is more important to come for an hour and mourn together.”
In response to the shooting, Sangiorgio said she couldn’t believe when she heard the news.
“I just couldn’t listen to the news anymore because I knew the number [of people dying] was increasing, and it wasn’t stopping,” she said.
Despite this, Sangiorgio feels safe practicing her religion at the temple and on campus with the help of University and City Police, as the two came to the club’s own mourning service last Monday and showed their support. She referenced how UP reacted fast to a wave of anti-semitic fliers that were posted around campus last semester and how grateful she was for their dedication to make sure they felt safe.
Vice president of Hillel and senior hospitality management major Daniel Kellaher was also disheartened after hearing about the shooting, especially against people of his religion.
“Even to this day that people are still targeting [Jews] for specifically being Jewish is just ridiculous,” Kellaher said.
Like Sangiorgio, Kellaher also feels safer on campus with the support of UP and is not ashamed of his religion.
“I feel OK to walk around if I have the Hillel shirt on,” Kellaher said. “In this day and age, you never know.”
After Kominsky read the names of the Pittsburgh victims and The Mourner’s Kaddish, a Jewish hymn used in times of mourning, Huth also gave his final message to the gathering in support of the Jewish community.
“We are here together to say ‘No more,’ and my tribute to you are those words,” Huth said. “Sisters and brothers, shalom.”
Email Emma Vallelunga at firstname.lastname@example.org