2018-11-07 / Home

Grief and expressions of unity follow Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

By DAVID PORTNOE Voice Editor


Jennifer Capozzoli (left) and Robyn Kaplan lit 11 memorial candles, one for each victim, prior to the start of the vigil. Capozzoli and Kaplan, both Jewish Federation employees, grew up in Squirrel Hill and have many family and friends there. Photo by David Portnoe. Jennifer Capozzoli (left) and Robyn Kaplan lit 11 memorial candles, one for each victim, prior to the start of the vigil. Capozzoli and Kaplan, both Jewish Federation employees, grew up in Squirrel Hill and have many family and friends there. Photo by David Portnoe. Jennifer Capozzoli grew up in Squirrel Hill, attending a different Conservative synagogue in the area, but she was at Tree of Life often for bar/bat mitzvahs and other celebrations. Her parents were at Tree of Life the Friday night before the shooting that claimed the lives of 11 people at the synagogue. They were there attending a cousin’s 70th birthday being marked at Kabbalat Shabbat services. Like so many throughout the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds, Capozzoli is just stunned and heartbroken.

“It’s terrible. It’s too personal. It shakes you up,” said Capozzoli, a staff member at the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey. “I can’t get over it,” she said.


Jewish Federation CEO Jennifer Dubrow Weiss and President Glenn Fuhrman speaking at the Community Memorial Service. Photo by Andrew Rowan. Jewish Federation CEO Jennifer Dubrow Weiss and President Glenn Fuhrman speaking at the Community Memorial Service. Photo by Andrew Rowan. Capozzoli’s thoughts and feelings echo so many in the aftermath of the worst attack on Jews in the history of the American Jewish community. From grief to anger, the emotions have varied as the Jewish community has had to deal with the reality that American Jews were targeted as they prayed.

“I came here because I feel a part of me has been ripped apart,” said Yaakov Bagley, a Cong. Sons of Israel member who came to the Community Memorial Service and Vigil sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, the Tri-County Board of Rabbis, and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). The event was held at Cong. Beth El in Voorhees. Over 1,000 people from across the denominational spectrum and throughout the community attended. In addition to the community service, there were memorials organized by synagogues and other groups held throughout the community. On the Shabbat following the Pittsburgh attack, Jews around the country were urged to #ShowUpForShabbat in solidarity with their Pittsburgh brothers and sisters.


The leadership of several local police departments attended the Community Memorial Service at Cong. Beth El. Photo by Andrew Rowan. The leadership of several local police departments attended the Community Memorial Service at Cong. Beth El. Photo by Andrew Rowan. Bagley said that no matter what our affiliation, we are all one nation. “This is the least I can do, to be here, show solidarity, pray, shed a tear or two, because when it comes down to it, we are all one.”

The Community Memorial Service opened with Rabbi Aaron Krupnick of Cong. Beth El reciting Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd…”). “We join with the families of loved ones of victims in this painful loss,” he said, as he recited the names of those who died: Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger.

The sadness felt at the Community Memorial Service was palpable. Held the day after the Shabbat massacre, several of the speakers expressed the grief at such a loss. “Words cannot express the sorrow we feel tonight,” said Jewish Federation President Glenn Fuhrman.

“Such tragedy should never take place, especially in houses of worship, where we are supposed to feel most safe,” he said.

Rabbi Andy Green, president of the Tri-County Board of Rabbis and associate rabbi at Cong. Beth El, addressed his remarks to the children who were present. He told them that what happened was scary not only for them, but for adults too. “We are here for you. The community is here for you. Your rabbi and teachers are here for you,” he said. Green, who 11 years ago was part of the Tree of Life community, said that there have always been some people who hate Jews, but it is not because of anything the children have done. “You are beautiful and created in the image of G-d,” he said.

Green thanked all the political leaders, Federation leadership, and members of different synagogues who came to the Community Memorial. He particularly thanked the representatives of area police departments. He told the children that they could trust the First Responders. “We are Americans, and we can trust each other…No one can make us feel as if we don’t belong.”

Congressman Donald Norcross, one of several political leaders who spoke that evening, said that what happened in Pittsburgh the day before “was not America. It is not our morals. It is not our nation.” He said that strength and community would get us through this together.

JCRC Director Paula Joffe told those in attendance that she took great comfort from the fact that she had received so many messages of support from the interfaith community. She said that so many of those interfaith leaders had come to the vigil that night.

Rabbi Ephraim Epstein, of Cong. Sons of Israel, spoke of “Achdut,” unity in Hebrew. He noted that Pittsburgh has fostered expressions of unity from throughout the Jewish world. Epstein said that the perpetrator of the massacre had said he wanted to kill all the Jews, but Epstein noted, “Am Yisrael Chai,” the people of Israel live.

The Community Memorial Service also featured prayers and the participation of many other rabbis and cantors from throughout the area. In addition, Jeremy Bannett of the Anti- Defamation League spoke about the growth of anti- Semitism in America. Political leaders from Southern New Jersey who spoke included Congressman Donald Norcross, Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey Nash, and Cherry Hill Township Council President David Fleisher. In addition, a number of religious and community leaders who could not attend sent prepared remarks that were read.

The Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey is collecting donations to bring light to Pittsburgh-area synagogues during Chanukah by helping to sponsor Oneg Shabbats (refreshments and snacks after services). Help bring light to the Jewish families of Pittsburgh by donating at jewishsouthjersey.org/bringlight .

Return to top