The soft singing was heard down Jaffa Street as hundreds of Jerusalem’s residents, including immigrants and tourists, from all backgrounds took part in a memorial gathering at Zion Square in Jerusalem for the victims of the “Tree of Life” Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh.
Tears streamed down the faces of the many participants as the group sang “Im Eshkachech Yerushalayim” (If I forget thee, Jerusalem), while candles were laid in the middle of the large circle in the shape of a Star of David and the number 11. Then, they were lit.
On Saturday, during the morning prayer service, a 46-year-old white supremacist and anti-Semite strolled into the “Tree of Life” Synagogue armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, and shot and killed 11 people inside. The victims were mostly elderly, ranging from age 54 to 97 – among them a married couple, a well-known doctor and two brothers with special needs.
Sara, one for the organizers of the event from the Chevruta mechina, a gap year program for Americans, in Jerusalem, said that several other gap year programs were participating. She mentioned they were not only there to commemorate the victims of the massacre, but also to stand with the residents of the Gaza Belt communities who have been under fire from Gaza.
Several of the participants held a large American flag as the memorial commenced. In the middle of the Star of David shaped candles were also 11 memorial candles, which are usually lit when someone dies
Two women, both tourists from Pittsburgh who were clearly emotional, spoke about the moments they found out what had happened in their community back home.
“We were sitting during Havdalah at the Western Wall,” said Kim Simon, “We started getting texts from husbands [who were] listening to police scanners. We immediately texted our husbands, texted our children and families and told them to stay away from the area.”
Simon and Kelly Schwimmer, who were in Israel with the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, said that as the night went on more and more reports from Pittsburgh started pouring in.
“As a group, we went to the Western Wall, and we prayed for the victims and the families, and the Jewish people because this is not only an attack on the Pittsburgh community – it’s an attack on all the Jewish people, we are all related,” Simon said.
Schwimmer said she was feeling very mixed emotions. “We are tired emotionally, physically yet at the same time, being so far away from home – this is my community back home, but to be here surrounded by all the worlds’ family.
“I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else where we are being supported so deeply emotionally, spiritually, physically and [by] all the world’s Jews who gather as family in hopes that this never happens [again],” she added
Simon added that “we need to go on and we need to be strong, and go to shul and tell those people of hatred that we will show up, we will not be scared and we will always fight for the Jewish people and Israel.”
Chiming in, Schwimmer said that “we are louder and prouder.
“We are stronger than hate, the Jews have always been stronger than the hatred in the world, and we will continue to be stronger than the hatred in the world,” she said.
Earlier in the evening, the walls of the Jerusalem’s Old City were lit up with the Israeli and American flags interlinked and the slogan: “We are with you Pittsburgh.”