Solemn Vigil for Synagogue Victims

People of all faiths gathered at Jewish Center in wake of Pittsburgh shooting
East Hampton Village Police Chief Mike Tracey, Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., Rabbi Joshua Franklin, and Rabbi/Cantor Debra Stein of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons filed into the synagogue’s packed sanctuary last Thursday evening. Durell Godfrey

A crowd estimated at over 600, including leaders and congregants of just about every synagogue and church on the South Fork, filled the Jewish Center of the Hamptons last Thursday night for a vigil memorializing the 11 victims of the Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. When the center’s sanctuary could hold not another soul, the latecomers spilled into a downstairs social hall to hear the service through an audio feed.

Rabbis Joshua Franklin of the Jewish Center and Daniel Geffen of Sag Harbor’s Temple Adas Israel jointly organized and led the memorial service. Rabbi Franklin, speaking of anti-Semitism, wondered whether it were once again, as in the days of the Ku Klux Klan, “the new normal.” “No,” he said firmly, while noting that in 2017, anti-Semitic acts in the United States rose by a startling 57 percent. But “Look around this room,” he told the throng. “Jews and people of other faiths, coming together in support of one another.” 

That, Rabbi Franklin said, “is our new normal.”

Rabbi Geffen spoke of fear. “Surely,” he said, “many of us tonight are scared . . . and in our most fearful moments, a voice inside cries out to us to hide, to put up bigger walls, to surround ourselves with sword and shield and to view our neighbors and strangers alike with suspicion and apprehension.” But, he said, “fear . . . did not keep us home tonight and it cannot be allowed to keep us from returning to our synagogues, our churches, mosques, temples, and schools. What is needed tonight and tomorrow and the day after is love, compassion, understanding, and ultimately, action. . . . We must concern ourselves with combating both the ways and the means by which hatred is spread.”

Rabbi-Cantor Debra Stein of the center led the East Hampton Presbyterian Church chorus in prayerful songs of hope, togetherness, and love. East Hampton Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. offered sympathy and assistance wherever possible. “East Hampton Village stands in solidarity with the Jewish community,” he said.

 Village Police Chief Michael Tracey read the names of the six Pittsburgh policemen injured in the shooting and a prayer for the safety of law enforcement officers everywhere. Other public officials at the service included State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, the supervisor of Southampton Town, Jay Schneiderman, and Perry Gershon, the Democratic candidate for Congress in the First District, who is a member of Temple Adas Israel.

A few miles away at Town Hall, after noting the vigil at the Jewish Center taking place concurrently with the East Hampton Town Board meeting, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc spoke movingly about the mass shooting before the night’s business began. 

“We must stand in solidarity against all forms of hatred,” the supervisor said. “It is our moral obligation and basic civic duty as citizens and human beings to uphold the founding principles of our democracy, ensuring that all people are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of religious beliefs, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.” 

“We must find ways,” he continued, “to close the widening divide between us, show greater tolerance, and increase our depth of understanding of one another, even though we may be different or disagree.” 

Councilman Jeff Bragman then spoke. “This attack hit home for me more closely because it was an attack on my people,” he told his colleagues and those in the audience. “But in a larger way, I know we understand it was an attack on all of us as one American people.” He asked permission to be excused from the proceedings so that he could attend the vigil. 

“We would all like to be there,” Mr. Van Scoyoc told him, “and will be there in spirit. Thank you for going and representing us as well.” 

At the Jewish Center, 11 church leaders, representing the East Hampton Clericus, lit candles, one for each victim, as the names and ages of those killed were read aloud. Toward the end, everyone in attendance switched on a small electric candle and held them as the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, was recited. 

Afterward, many people stood in the pews without moving, hugging and comforting one another. It took a long time before the synagogue emptied out.

With Reporting by  Christopher Walsh

Durell Godfrey
People held candles as the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, was recited at the close of a vigil here last Thursday for the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. Durell Godfrey