In the aftermath of a mass shooting that left 11 dead at a Pittsburgh seminary, father-son rabbis Avremi and Benny Zippel both characterized their reaction as “speechless.”
But as mourners gathered at Chabad Square in Salt Lake City, Avremi Zippel found words of assurance: “Am Yisrael Chai” — “the people of Israel live.”
“This is how we respond to such a tragedy,” he told members of the Salt Lake Valley’s Jewish community and faith and government leaders who lit candles and held a vigil for the victims of the shooting Saturday at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where members were celebrating a new baby in the congregation.
Zippel said he waited anxiously as hours ticked by Saturday before he could call his son who attends a rabbinical school in Pittsburgh; orthodox tradition forbids use of phones and other digital devices during Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. Zippel later learned that the seminary is less than a mile from the Tree of Life synagogue.
“Imagine if the perpetrator had chosen a different target,” Benny Zippel said. “It could have been him. It could have been us. It could have been Salt Lake City, God forbid.”
The possibility of anti-Semitic violence in Utah was not lost on Vivian Dowsett, who joined mourners at Chabad Square as the group Mormon Women for Ethical Government linked hands and circled the building in solidarity.
“We’ve had several scares in the Jewish community,” said Dowsett, who is a member of Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City. “We’re sitting ducks. … Living as a Jew, no matter where you live, you carry that with you 24 hours a day, seven days a week — because we’re ‘different.’”
Lisa Kieda, a member of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah for nearly two decades, said she begins the high holiday services the same way each year: “I pray we’re all safe,” she said.
The outrage of Saturday’s attack was intensified because of its location, she said.
“Being in a house of worship — those people are gathered here in peace, to pray. It’s hate, it’s mental illness, and it’s guns,” she said.
And, she added, “it’s part of the fabric of [Jewish] life.”
A number of Salt Lake City-area faith leaders attended Monday’s vigil, along with Gov. Gary Herbert, Rep. Chris Stewart, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, Salt Lake County councilwoman and U.S. Senate candidate Jenny Wilson and other elected officials.
“We are brothers and sisters regardless of some of the differences in our religious doctrine and understanding,” Herbert said.
Abe Katz, a survivor of Auschwitz and Birkenau, lit 11 candles in remembrance of the victims of Saturday’s shooting.
A vigil was scheduled in Park City shortly after the one at Chabad Square, and another vigil will take place Tuesday at Congregation Kol Ami.