Vigils Held to Honor Pittsburgh Victims

November 2, 2018
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Congregants and community members gathered to remember those lost and to also reflect on what can be done to heal division and fight hate. Photo by Natalie Anzarouth

By Natalie B. Anzarouth and Chris Rotolo |

TINTON FALLS – In a time marred with fear, pain and uncertainty for many, it was a night of hope and unity at the Monmouth Reform Temple Monday evening, when religious leaders of many faiths, local officials and community members came together to memorialize the 11 victims murdered during Shabbat services last week at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

People of different faiths, races and backgrounds somberly entered the main sanctuary of the temple to pay their respects, filling the room to capacity with at least 700 attendees who embraced one another and held hands following the deadliest anti-Semitic attack to take place on American soil.

Rabbi Marc Kline of the Monmouth Reform Temple organized the vigil to bring people together to stand in unity against hate, he explained.

On Monday at Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, Rabbi Marc Kline led a vigil to honor the 11 victims of the brutal massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Saturday morning. Photo by Natalie Anzarouth

“I am just awed by this,” Rabbi Kline said. “Look at the number of people who have come out, just to say by being here that we love each other. And that we matter.” Kline stressed the importance of mourning the loss, but urged congregants to remain hopeful. “The goal tonight is not to just mourn the loss, because when you mourn loss you get stuck in the pain. Tonight I want to celebrate life. And I want to celebrate an opportunity that we have to change the conversation.”

“Monday wasn’t a ceremony of mourning and grief, but a call to action,” Kline told The Two River Times Wednesday.

The action he hopes to inspire, he said, is to get people to step out of their comfort zones and effect positive change in their community through trying to talk and understand those whose views are different from their own.

“We can’t sit back and wait until this happens to us. We have to start figuring out how to talk to each other, even the people with whom we disagree,” Kline said. “We need to learn more about each other and, once we do that, less people will fall through the cracks, fewer people will be ignored and we’ll develop a better sense of people who may be bordering on dangerous.”

In nearby Rumson, Congregation B’nai Israel on Ridge Road held a similar vigil with 350 congregants and community members.

Rabbi Dov Goldberg led the vigil and said it “sought to validate the swirl of emotions that those in grief feel, from sadness, anger, fear or bewilderment, to the need for reassurance and hope.”

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However, Goldberg too hoped to use the event as a foundation for a better future, in which different opinions could lead to healthy discourse, rather than violence.

The vigil’s most important role was “to remind those in our community who are suffering, and those in Pittsburgh who are in unimaginable pain, that they are not alone, and that the bonds of support and love are stronger and more enduring than the evil that comes from baseless fear and irrational hate, Goldberg said.

But security was also on the minds of those at both vigils.

Lisa Karasic, chief marketing officer for the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey was among the attendees. She told The Two River Times that the Jewish Federation serves as the liaison for bringing law enforcement and public safety officials together to open a dialogue with synagogues about security measures. Karasic said over the past three years the Jewish Federation has received roughly $3 million in federal and state Homeland Security grants, as well as private grants, enabling it to conduct safety training for synagogues, have a security task force perform security assessments on site, and advocate for synagogues with Homeland Security. The Federation covers all of Monmouth and Middlesex Counties, according to Karasic, and is the central resource for all Jewish institutions.

“It’s a senseless tragedy, our community feels it. It’s just a very sad state of affairs,” said Red Bank Police Chief Darren McConnell. He also said Red Bank has been working with other municipalities and police forces to form a coordinated response to any potential attacks. In some cases he said that includes recommending internal video security systems, panic alarms, emergency hotline phones that would directly contact law enforcement, in order to “shorten the response time if something does happen, because in situations like this, seconds really do matter on how fast we can get officers on the scene.”

Emilie Kovit-Meyer, executive director of Congregation B’nai Israel, described the atmosphere at the Ridge Road synagogue vigil as somber, emotional and supportive. She said they had many clergy members from the local area of many faiths, including the Church of Nativity, Tower Hill, First Presbyterian and others. But they were also security conscious.

“We hired a security guard from the agency we use and Fair Haven police came to attend the event and posted an officer in our lobby during the event. We are constantly reviewing our security protocols to make sure we are following best practices and work closely with Rumson police on this,” Kovit-Meyer said.

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Mayor Pasquale Menna of Red Bank attended the MRT vigil and said everyone in the area has an obligation to be in unity with any victim of any hatred or violence. “Even though we’re removed from it from hundreds of miles, we have to show unity and we have to send a statement, because those who remain silent empower those who are evil.”

Tinton Falls Mayor Vito Perillo, a World War II veteran, expressed the same sentiments. “When I heard the news (of the Pittsburgh Temple shootings) I just couldn’t believe it. It just numbs you,” he said.

Amy Mallet, a former freeholder and officer of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey spoke to the crowd at the vigil. “When one faith is attacked, all faiths are attacked,” she said.

The vigil ended with all attendants rising to Kaddish – a Jewish traditional prayer for the deceased – naming all 11 lives that were lost.

“It was a lovely, very meaningful service,” said Rev. Jim Thomas of Iselin, a friend of Kline. “And I can’t imagine something like what happened in Pittsburgh happening to his people or to any people that I’ve ever prayed with.”

Joanne Giordano of Red Bank said she came to the vigil with her reverend, Dean Brown, of the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church of Red Bank, who is part of a group of interfaith clergy which Kline spearheads. She said she was moved most by the “pledge to stand up for the other” that was included in the program. “If there’s one thing you take from this night, it’s this,” Giordano said, adding she hopes for the violence and hate against all people to stop.

Brown said many of the people who participated in the vigil have existing relationships. “It’s not necessarily about creating something new, but remembering what we have and leveraging that more positively.”

“These are my brothers,” said speaker Rev. Zaniel Young of Zion AME of Red Bank following the service as he looked around to Rabbi Kline, Rev. Brown and other members of their interfaith group.

“Although this is result of a tragic event, you can still see the beauty and the good…the good wonderful spirit of human beings,” said Imam Mustafa El Amin of the Masjid Ibrahim in Newark. “We’re honored to be here.”

Goldberg said the Rumson vigil “sought to validate the swirl of emotions that those in grief feel, from sadness, anger, fear, or bewilderment, to the need for reassurance and hope. Yet, it’s most important role was to remind those in our community who are suffering and those in Pittsburgh who are in unimaginable pain, that they are not alone, and that the bonds of support and love are stronger and more enduring than the evil that comes from baseless fear and irrational hate.”

This article was first published in the Nov. 1-7, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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