As a Muslim youth choir sang and leaders from more than a dozen faith organizations lit candles, members of the Jewish community in Salt Lake City called for love and kindness Tuesday in the face of anti-Semitic violence.
“We will not stop fighting for others,” Rabbi Samuel L. Spector told hundreds of mourners gathered at Congregation Kol Ami for a vigil in remembrance of 11 people killed in a shooting Saturday at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. “Those that have tried to eliminate us are no longer here, but we still are.”
Refugee advocate Eric Goldman noted that the alleged shooter, Robert Gregory Bowers, had focused his anti-Semitism on Jewish refugee aid, posting conspiracy theories that Jews were supporting caravans of Central American immigrants whom President Donald Trump has attacked on social media as they move toward the U.S. border. Goldman urged mourners to let detractors know that “we are committed to the Jewish obligation to welcome and love the stranger.”
Jay Jacobson, president of the United Jewish Federation of Utah, warned mourners to remain vigilant in the face of escalating hate speech and violence.
“We confront a rising wave of anti-Semitism,” Jacobson said, pointing to hostilities toward Jewish people in Russia and Ethiopia. “We never thought that those values would come again to our shores.”
Speaker Amy Ireland reminisced on her childhood in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, site of the Tree of Life Synagogue, where Bowers allegedly burst in on worship services and opened fire on the congregation, shouting “All Jews must die.” The rabbi who conducted Ireland’s parents' funerals was involved in memorials Tuesday for some of Bowers' victims.
Before Saturday, Squirrel Hill was home to neighborly chit-chat on people’s porches, multiple Jewish congregations and schools, and acclaimed children’s television host Fred Rogers, Ireland said.
“This was Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” she said.
But, she added, “in [this] political climate, I am not as surprised as I should be.”
Language that mocks, demeans and incites bigotry “creates fertile ground for seeds of hatred,” she said.
The only solution, Ireland said, is to persist in kindness.
“Love is stronger than hate. It has to be, or what really is the point?”