Houston-area Jewish community mourns, evaluates safety

November 1, 2018 GMT

After the mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Houston Jewish community is pulling together to honor and pray for those lost and thinking about ways to keep their people safe.The shooting Saturday, Oct. 27, at the Tree of Life Synagogue left 11 people dead and six wounded in what is thought to be the deadliest attack on Jews in United States’ history.The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston is an independent nonprofit that, according to spokesperson Taryn Baranowski, works to raise funds for programs like Meals on Wheels, to connect the younger generations with Israel and most importantly to make sure that Houston is a city where Jewish life can flourish.“We are horrified and saddened by the senseless, violent atrocity that targeted innocent people practicing their faith in their spiritual home. We stand in solidarity with an outraged world who condemn this and all terrorist attacks,” read a statement issued by the federation.Baranowski said people should be able to feel safe in the places where they worship and that the rise in anti-Semitic behaviors across the nation is unacceptable.The federation partnered with the Jewish Community Center and the Anti-Defamation League to host a candlelight vigil that was led Sunday, Oct. 28, by the Houston Rabbinical Association. According to Baranowski, about 1,500 people attended.“You know, you really need to give people time to process and grieve and heal,” she said. “And we thought that was important to show our support for the Pittsburgh community in that way, and we saw, you know, Houston is a special place. We saw how people from other faiths came out to support the Jewish community in Houston during that time.”Jerrad Bloome is the president at Congregation Beth Yeshurun in Meyerland. With approximately 1,800 families, Beth Yeshurun is the nation’s largest conservative synagogue, Bloome said.Bloome was at the synagogue helping two boys celebrate a B’nai Mitzvah when the attack in Pittsburgh happened, so his first reaction was to make sure the congregants there at the time were safe and that security was on high alert.Bloome said following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the property has been pretty secure with a perimeter fence, security gates and off-duty police officers stationed on-site. However, he said President Donald Trump’s comments that having an armed guard at Tree of Life might have changed things lacked sensitivity and were not realistic.“There are a lot of very small Jewish communities with not many resources. I mean we’re a big synagogue, and we have a lot of resources we can draw from when it comes to security,” Bloome said. “But there are a lot of small synagogues just like there are small churches and communities that really don’t have the ability to arm themselves all of the time.”Coming home after the shooting, Bloome faced his 15-year-old daughter who had questions like why some people hate them so much. Bloome really did not have a lot of answers but encourages those who do not understand the Jewish faith to check out his synagogue to learn more.“I would tell them to come sometime and see what we’re actually about and the things that we do and that our values and our traditions would welcome them to try to make their lives better and make them a better person and to hopefully make their lives happier and not so angry,” Bloome said.He doubts the Tree of Life Synagogue is at a place where they can receive a lot of help but said Jewish communities will be ready to jump in at that point. Until then, Bloome said Beth Yeshurun plans to hold a special Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) on Friday, Nov. 2, to remember and honor the victims lost at Tree of Life.When Hurricane Harvey flooded Beth Yeshurun last summer, Bloome watched as Jewish communities around the nation and world stepped in to help them rebuild. He believes the tragedy in Pittsburgh will ultimately have the same effect at Tree of Life and in the Jewish community as a whole.“It brought our community together - it made it stronger. It made us realize across all the Jewish organizations how much we help each other and need each other,” he said.tracy.maness@hcnonline.com