MARGATE – In unity with synagogues across the country, the congregation of Beth El Synagogue gathered Saturday, Nov. 3 for the first Shabbat since the slaughter of Jews worshiping at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last week. Following its traditional Shabbat service, the congregation led by Rabbi Aaron Krauss began a second interfaith service to remember the 11 victims and their families.
“The tragic events in Pittsburgh, certainly for Jews throughout the world, seems to negate the thought for millions of our people who came to this country in search of safety from persecution and prejudice, that we are entirely immune to that. And in the back of the minds of millions, lies the events of the Second World War, never to be forgotten,” he said opening the interfaith service.
Paradoxically, the rabbi said the nurse who treated the perpetrator was the daughter of a rabbi, and the president of the hospital where he was treated a member of Tree of Life Synagogue.
Represented at the service were public officials and leaders of the Christian and Muslim faiths. Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said anti-Semitism will never stop.
“It’s a disease, an incurable disease,” he said.
It is not rhetoric that has accused Jews of many of the world’s problems over history, he said.
“If the Jews didn’t exist, it would be necessary for the anti-Semite to invent them,” he said quoting Jean Paul Sartre. “This is one disease there seems there will be no cure for.”
Richard Cohen, a board member of the Philadelphia Region of the Anti-defamation League, which was formed to stop the defamation of Jewish people and secure fair treatment and justice for all, said the organization works with law enforcement to track incidents of anti-Semitism. In 2017, hate crime incidents were up 57 percent in the United States and there were 200 incidents in New Jersey, ranking it third nationally for hate crimes.
“It’s been with us for millennia. The world always needs a good scapegoat,” he said.
He said the internet has allowed hate, bigotry, lies and conspiracy theories to thrive. The ADL is working with Twitter and Facebook to remove hate speech from having a presence before the most vulnerable and youths.
“We want to put it out of the mainstream,” he said. “Words matter. Rhetoric, particularly coming from some of our elected officials, can act as a thermostat. We can increase the temperature or cool the temperature.”
After Neo-Nazi’s and white supremacists marched in Charlottesville last year, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” “We hoped for a clear and unambiguous response from our elected officials. We are still waiting,” he said.
He recalled when he was a youngster having dinner with an Irish Catholic family and one of the boys at the table used the N-word.
“His father hit the ceiling, smacked his hand on the table and said, ‘Don’t you ever let me hear that word in my house again.’ He was sending a clear, unambiguous message to his family. That’s what I call leadership,” he said. “How do we expect others to stand up for us, if we don’t stand up for every other marginalized group. We have to earn the right as Jews for others to stand up for us.”
Professor Doug Cervi is a Roman Catholic who teaches Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Stockton University. He said he did not know what type of reaction to expect from his students in the aftermath of the shooting.
He recalled words from a cantor who suggested teaching his students five things – have honor, respect for themselves and all people, a sense of awe, a healthy fear, and to make this a better place than before you came.
“We have an opportunity here to do our part. Please vote on Tuesday,” he told students. “The disease won’t go away. It will rear its ugly head at every opportunity. It’s our job to make sure that does not happen.”
Rev. Joseph Wallace of the Diocese of Camden said the teachings of the Second Vatican Council deemed that any prejudice, anti-Semitism, racial or ethnic hatred is a mortal sin.
“We have come to a point historically, where St. John Paul II apologized for the sins of Roman Catholics against our Jewish brethren. We come from the spirituality of Judaism. Jesus was a Jew; the 12 Apostles were Jews and the mother of Jesus was a Jew. We are rediscovering our Jewish spirituality,” he said.
Wallace said Catholic Catechism teaches its followers to respect all religions.
“We speak lovingly of our relationship with the Jewish people and condemn all forms of hatred. The one thing we all hold in common is that we are taught that we must love one another,” he said.
Atlantic City Councilman Kaleem Shabazz, who is also the leader of the NAACP and the Islamic community in Atlantic City, said, “It seems to me that the people who hate Jews, hate African-Americans, and hate Muslims. Unfortunately, they manifest that in acts of violence”
Shabazz said the Muslim community raised $75,000 in the aftermath of the “monstrous” killings not for the money but to show “a sense of brotherhood, concern and sharing,” he said.
Shabazz said Americans should not tolerate hate in any form against any people or religious institution.
“This is a time in America when we all have to take on the chore of fighting back, uniting and doing what we have to do to put down the hate. We have more in common than what divides us,” he said.
At the end of the service, two Catholic priests read aloud the names of those who perished at Tree of Life Synagogue, and Dr. Beverly Vaughan led the congregation in a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.”
The victims are:
- Joyce Fienberg, 75
- Richard Gottfried, 65
- Rose Mallinger, 97
- Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
- Cecil Rosenthal, 59
- David Rosenthal, 54, brother of Cecil
- Bernice Simon, 84
- Sylvan Simon, 86, husband of Bernice
- Daniel Stein, 71
- Melvin Wax, 88
- Irving Younger, 69