By Janelle Clausen, Teri West, Luke Torrance and Jed Hendrixson
For countless North Shore residents, a mass shooting in a Pittsburgh congregation more than 400 miles away was an attack on them all.
On Saturday, a gunman stormed into the Tree of Life Synagogue, killing 11 people and wounding six others during Shabbat celebrations, making it the deadliest attack against the Jewish community in American history.
The suspected gunman, Robert Bowers, 46, who was later apprehended, reportedly told one officer: “They’re committing genocide to my people. I just want to kill Jews.”
The event has shaken many on the North Shore, which many Holocaust survivors and their descendants have called home. But it also sparked unity, with thousands of people attending memorial ceremonies to remember the fallen – yet press on.
Hundreds of people recited prayers together at the cavernous Great Neck Synagogue on Monday, heads often bowed.
Present at the ceremony were representatives from more than a dozen synagogues, including Temple Israel, Temple Beth-El, Shaarei Tzion, Torah Ohr, United Mashadi Jewish Community of America, Chabad of Great Neck, Kol Yisrael Achim, Beth Hadassah Synagogue, Young Israel of Great Neck and others.
Rabbi Shmuel Ismach of Young Israel of Great Neck, who led the memorial that featured rabbis from nearly 20 Great Neck congregations, said people are here not only for “yesterday,” but tomorrow.
“We cry over those who are killed and those who were wounded, including the great police officers who entered the fray to protect, to defend,” Ismach told attendees. “This could have been any of our synagogues. And so we are here about yesterday.”
“But there’s another reason,” Ismach continued. “I think we’re also here because we are fearful and nervous, we are here because of tomorrow – what does this terrible event mean for the future of Shabbat morning in all of our synagogues and all of our communities, what does it mean for Jews throughout the country?”
A similar event was held in Port Washington on Sunday. The Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore held an interfaith solidarity service that included the Port Jewish Center, the Community Synagogue of Port Washington and Temple Beth Israel, alongside the leaders of several local churches.
“Standing together with our Port clergy and standing as a community … it really is something remarkable, and I hope it galvanized people,” said Rabbi Jodie Siff of the Reconstructionist Synagogue.
Siff and Rabbi Irwin Zeplowitz of the Community Synagogue said they were not surprised that something like this had happened. Both said that the rhetoric in the country has pushed people to violence and that politicians needed to do better with how they used words. But both were inspired by the community’s response.
“I take great heart that many of other faiths have been supportive of the Jewish community,” Zeplowitz said.
The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County said in a statement that the shooting is a “sad and frightening reminder that the forces of anti-Semitism and hate are alive and threatening.”
“It is clear that the significant increase in anti-Semitic incidents all over the country – including here on Long Island – are not merely harmless acts of a lunatic fringe, and that appropriate and strong responses are called for,” the center said, adding that “concrete steps must be taken” to secure safety in Jewish institutions like schools, synagogues and cultural centers.
At a later memorial ceremony at Temple Israel of Great Neck, residents filled the pews for evening prayers, songs in Hebrew and English like “America the Beautiful” and “We Shall Overcome,” and to light 11 memorial candles.
Temple Israel Rabbi Howard Stecker urged congregants to recognize that they are “one people with one heart” and “not allow those who hate to co-opt the story.”
“Through the fear and through the anger and through the desire to shut down, I urge us to remain open – open in every way and to continue to tell our beautiful story together,” Stecker said.
Chabad of Mineola Rabbi Anchelle Perl, ahead of a planned memorial vigil on Wednesday, said that the attack will not hurt his unwavering sense of hope.
“Today we all stand together against anti-Semitism,” Perl said. “I am overtaken by the outpouring of support I have received from the community, which speaks in greater part to what America truly is.
“We will keep moving forward, and look toward more wonderful times in our lives.”
At a Sunday service, Temple Tikvah of New Hyde Park grieved and stood in solidarity with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh.
“As we mourn the loss of life in Pittsburgh, we reinforce our vigilance at home,” Rabbi Randy Sheinberg said. “Please know that here at Temple Tikvah, security is a top priority.
“We are in contact with the local police precinct, who continue to patrol our grounds. We have hired security guards for many of our events and programs. We are also reviewing our security procedures and protocols, and making changes where necessary.”
“May the memories of the 11 victims be for a blessing, may those who are injured have a full and speedy recovery and may the families and friends of the victims, and all of us who grieve, find comfort and consolation,” Sheinberg said.
On Friday night, Temple Tikvah will participate in “#Show Up for Shabbat,” a nationwide campaign initiated by the American Jewish Committee to combat anti-Semitism.
Assemblyman Charles Lavine wrote a letter to President Donald Trump on Sunday, urging him to create a federal commission on violence.
“Bitter tears alone will not stop the increase in acts of violence in our nation,” Lavine wrote.
Temple Beth Sholom in Roslyn Heights hosted a service in solidarity with Pittsburgh Monday night.
Rabbi Uri Allen read a poem that he saw on Facebook that day by Zev Steinberg called “What’s Your Name?” that speaks to the baby who was to have his bris at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday morning.
“The tears were supposed to be of boundless joy, not bottomless sorrow,” he read. “The cries were supposed to be ‘mazel tov’ not the mourner’s kaddish.”
At the end of the service, Rabbi Alan Lucas had two main recommendations for those wondering what to do after the tragedy.
One: “Come to Shul,” a space where Jews can find comfort and community during such times, he said.
“I expect every one of you to turn out at the polls on Tuesday,” Lucas said.