None of the 80 or so people who nearly filled the sanctuary at Adath Israel Congregation had planned to be at the synagogue on Lawrenceville Road in Lawrence Township on the evening of Oct. 28.
But that was before a man, armed with a rifle and several handguns, walked into a Pittsburgh, Pa., synagogue and killed 11 Jews who had gathered for worship services on the morning on Oct. 27.
In a show of solidarity and support, the attendees gathered at Adath Israel to remember the victims in a community vigil sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks and the Board of Rabbis.
The vigil drew rabbis from neighboring towns and congregations – Rabbi Jay Kornsgold of Beth-El Synagogue in East Windsor, Rabbi Eric Wisnia of Congregation Beth Chaim in West Windsor and Rabbi Stuart Pollack of Har Sinai Temple in Hopewell Township.
The Anti-Defamation League has said the shooting in Pittsburgh was the worst act of anti-Semitism in American history, Rabbi Benjamin Adler, the spiritual leader of Adath Israel, told the attendees.
While the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue is “shocking and horrifying,” it should not come as a surprise because of the level of hatred, Adler said.
“We have seen what hate can do,” he said.
Adler related the story of two of the victims, brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal. He said the brothers had intellectual disabilities, but took part in the synagogue and regularly attended services.
“They looked out for one another. They were kind and good people. The loss of these two men is what hate has brought. We have to find a way to stand up against hate and anti-Semitism,” Adler said.
Donald Leibowitz, the president of the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, said there was little he could add to the statement of grief, but he said he was grateful for the show of solidarity.
Hatred will not go away overnight, Leibowitz said.
Pollack said Pittsburgh is a familiar city to him because it is his wife’s hometown. Squirrel Hill is one of the historic Jewish communities in the United States and a place where all of the synagogues get along, he said.
That’s why the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue was so surreal, Pollack said. But “faith will see us through,” he said, urging attendees to strive to perform acts of loving kindness as a bulwark against such “despicable” acts of violence.
Wisnia said World War I, which ended 100 years ago, was supposed to be the war to end all wars. There would be no more hatred and the world would begin anew, he said.
Instead, it ushered in 100 years worth of more mass murder and horror, Wisnia said. People feel comfortable hating and criticizing people they don’t agree with.
“They think, ‘You are crazy and I have to kill you,’ ” he said.
“How much hatred is spewing out of the mouths of our leaders? We need leaders with love, compassion and empathy. Let us stand for love and teach tolerance,” Wisnia said.
Kornsgold said “we live in a time when we know that anti-Semitism and hatred are on the rise. What do we do? Where do we go from here?”
He said he is tired of listening to politicians offer thoughts and prayers after each act of violence. Now it is time to see action and results, such as passing laws that keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people, he said.
There is an opportunity to make change on Nov. 6, Kornsgold said, urging the attendees to vote for the political candidates who best represent their values.
To the haters, Kornsgold said the Jews will outlive them all. That’s because the Jews believe in hope. They will be here “forever,” he said.
“May the Jewish people continue to live and prosper and make our world a better place for all God’s children,” Kornsgold said.