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Boston vigil honors victims of synagogue shooting

  • Hundreds gathered for a vigil on Boston Common Oct. 28 in reaction to the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh the day before. Pilot photo/Jacqueline Tetrault
  • Cardinal O’Malley speaks from the Parkman Bandstand on the Boston Common. The cardinal joined local civic and religious leaders condemning the violence at the Tree of Life Synagogue expressing solidarity with the Jewish community. Pilot photo/Jacqueline Tetrault

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BOSTON -- Cardinal Seán O'Malley joined local civic and religious leaders at an Oct. 28 vigil on Boston Common to show solidarity with the Jewish community in the aftermath of the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue the previous day.

On Oct. 27, a gunman killed 11 people and injured six others attending a morning Shabbat service at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Several hundred people attended the vigil, some carrying signs, and many wearing buttons with the phrase "Hate has no place here."

Not far from the bandstand, walkways were lined with 70 large-scale portraits of Holocaust survivors, including nine from Massachusetts, taken by German-Italian photographer and filmmaker Luigi Toscano. The traveling exhibit, entitled "Lest We Forget," was installed on the Common on Oct. 16 and will be on display until Nov. 10.

Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, introduced each of the speakers. In addition to leaders of local faith communities, elected officials shared remarks, including Gov. Charlie Baker, Sen. Edward Markey, Rep. Joe Kennedy, Attorney General Maura Healey, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, State Treasurer Deb Goldberg, and Boston Police Commissioner William Gross.

Rabbi David Heilman of Young Israel of Brookline read the names of the 11 people killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue: Joyce Feinberg, 75; Rich Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97, a Holocaust survivor; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; Cecil Rosenthal, 59; his brother David Rosenthal, 54; Bernice Simon, 84; her husband Sylvan Simon, 86; Daniel Stein, 71; Melvin Wax, 88; and Irving Younger, 69.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he had spoken an hour earlier with the mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, to tell him about the vigil. Walsh passed on Peduto's message of thanks to the attendees.

Walsh admitted to feeling "a little joy" as he looked out at the crowd, which he said looked to him like the top of a tree, and grew by about 500 people since the vigil began.

"To the people of Pittsburgh from the people of Boston: we love you, we support you, and we will always stand side by side with you," Walsh said.

Cardinal O'Malley was the first non-Jewish religious leader to speak at the vigil. He said that in Catholic churches and many Protestant churches around the world, the gospel reading for that Sunday was about Jesus journeying to Jerusalem for the Passover. Cardinal O'Malley called this "a very stark reminder that the church is the daughter of the synagogue."

"Today we are here, all of us, as congregants of the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He shared how a year ago, when the church was struggling to meet the needs of refugees, Barry Shrage, then-president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, contacted him to offer help. Since his organization did not have direct services like Catholic Charities, Shrage raised money to hire lawyers that would work with Catholic Charities to help immigrants.

"That is the idealism of the Jewish community," Cardinal O'Malley said.

Rev. Liz Walker, pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church, shared her reflections on John 1:5, "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it."

Sometimes, she said, those words do not seem like enough in the face of so much darkness. However, she recalled a story about Robert Louis Stevenson, who was sickly as a child but liked to get out of bed to stand at a window and watch the lamp-lighter "poke holes in the darkness."

"I think that sometimes that is the best we can do: poke holes in the darkness," Walker said. Her message to Pittsburgh and to everyone at the vigil, she said, was, "I'm going to do what I can to poke holes in the darkness."

Rabbi Marc Baker, president and CEO of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, said they were present "because we feel this loss as if it is our own."

"Any of us who is part of a faith community, who finds comfort, joy, and peace in community and in prayer, knows it could have been us," he said.

The youngest speaker was Arielle Stein, a Boston University student and a member of the Tree of Life Congregation.

Stein said the thing that makes Squirrel Hill "precious" to her is that it "values all types of people." Many storefronts there have signs that say "Love thy neighbor" in Arabic, Spanish and Hebrew.

"I know that we will bounce back, and I hope all communities can embody loving thy neighbor as well," Stein said.

In closing, Rabbi Sharon Cohen Adisfeld, president of Hebrew College, led the crowd in praying the Mourner's Kaddish, a Hebrew prayer recited in memory of the dead.

When the speakers adjourned, some people stood arm in arm and sang a Jewish song, welcoming more and more people into their circle.

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