‘We are all in this together’: Pittsburgh shooting memorial held at Aiken synagogue
Just one day after the man accused of killing 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue shooting spree pleaded not guilty, Aiken-area residents gathered to memorialize those who died and to display strength – willful solidarity – in and for the Jewish community.
On Friday night, dozens of people congregated at Adath Yeshurun, a nearly century-old synagogue along Greenville Street in downtown Aiken.
A single police officer, in uniform, stood by the door.
On Oct. 27, Robert Bowers drove to and entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh with “multiple firearms,” according to indictment documents. Bowers then allegedly opened fire.
While on his rampage, Bowers made clear his “desire to ‘kill Jews,’” according to the same documents, which were filed Oct. 31 in a Pennsylvania district court.
Bowers ended up killing 11 and injuring a handful of first responders, officials said.
Over the course of Friday night – a blustery one – those at the Aiken synagogue openly acknowledged what happened last week. A candle was lit at the beginning of the night for each person authorities say Bowers killed.
Judith Evans, a Holocaust survivor, later spoke to the congregation, which had filled the synagogue to standing-room-only levels.
“Let’s talk. People let’s talk,” Evans said, preaching in the abstract. “Let’s have a civil conversation.”
“Don’t get all worked up when you hear something that you don’t believe in,” Evans elaborated. ”‘Oh, I don’t believe in Jesus, come on, don’t tell me.’ He believes in Jesus, respect him for what he is. He is a muslim, he is a Hinduism, he is whatever he is. He is a human being. Learn what he believes, learn what he feels. Respect him for what he is.”
Evans said she received calls from the media following the Pittsburgh massacre.
Sharon Preston, who officiated Friday night, said she was overwhelmed – “We have been and still are deeply touched” – by the recent outpouring of support. Evans shared the same sentiment.
At least seven faith leaders were scheduled to attend the memorial service and sabbath Friday night, according to planning emails.
The Rev. Debra Guthrie of the Aiken Unitarian Universalist Church was the first to address the gathering.
“We are all in this together,” Guthrie said, later adding: “When violence and hatred hurts one of us, it hurts us all. Distinctions between us are illusions.”
“If we love … love brings us together,” Evans said.
The 44-count indictment levied against Bowers includes hate crimes as well as discharging a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence.