Princeton mourns victims of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

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A crowd estimated at 750 people gathered for an interfaith prayer service in Princeton on Oct. 28 in response to a shooting that left 11 people dead at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., the day before.

The one-hour gathering took place in Nassau Presbyterian Church and included Scripture readings and songs in English and Hebrew.

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“As mayor, I think it was probably the fifth or sixth gun violence massacre vigil I’ve been to,” said Mayor Liz Lempert, who is Jewish. “It’s becoming like a ritual and it shouldn’t be.”

The shooting occurred on Oct. 27 in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood while Sabbath services were being conducted.

Armed with “multiple firearms,” Robert Bowers allegedly shot and killed 11 people and injured others, including responding law enforcement officers, the U.S. Justice Department said. During the crime, Bowers allegedly said he wanted to “kill Jews,” authorities said.

This week, Bowers, 46, was charged in a 44-count federal indictment that carries the death penalty or life without parole. He has pleaded not guilty.

“The message I’m trying to pass on to my congregation is we mourn with the community of Tree of Life in Pittsburgh,” Rabbi Adam Feldman, the leader of The Jewish Center, Nassau Street, said on Oct. 30. “The loss of life is horrendous.”

For the Rev. David Davis, the pastor of the Nassau Presbyterian Church, the shooting occurred in the city in which he grew up.

“Newtown, Parkland, Las Vegas is one thing, but then Squirrel Hill (in) Pittsburgh just strikes me in a different way,” Davis said. “As another Pittsburgher in our community said to me, for the first time in her life when one of these tragedies happened, she was waiting for the list to come out to see if she knew anybody. I think that’s part of it as well.”

Davis said Squirrel Hill, a Jewish community, “was surrounded, in a Pittsburgh kind of way, by all kinds of ethnicities and all kinds of faith groups.”

“There was a diversity to Squirrel Hill going way back in its interactions with other communities,” he said.

In reacting to the shooting, President Donald J. Trump on Oct. 27 pointed to the need for security at the house of worship.

“If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better,” he said. “But if they had some kind of protection inside the temple, maybe it could have been a very much different situation, but they didn’t.”

Lempert, a gun control advocate, said she did not think “that arming everybody is the answer.”

“This is the thing, as long as we don’t have reasonable gun control, I believe incidents like this are going to continue to happen,” she said. “Guns are not the solution. Guns are the problem.”

Still, The Jewish Center had a police presence for its religious school for children on Oct. 29.

“The officer stood with me in the courtyard to welcome the kids,” Feldman said. “We wanted a police presence here so people felt secure.”

For this weekend, Princeton Police Chief Nicholas K. Sutter said police would have a presence in the area of the synagogue. He declined to say if an officer would be in the building.

“We are definitely going to have more of a visible presence during these upcoming weeks,” he said.

The prayer service at the church was followed later in the day with a vigil on the Princeton University campus.

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