A crowd gathered to remember the victims and those injured in the shooting on Shabbat at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pa.

By Keri Guten Cohen
Story Development Editor

Rabbi Finman addresses those assembled at the vigil. Keri Cohen

Standing in a chilly, light drizzle, those gathered huddled close together and heard words of comfort and resolve from Rabbi Herschel Finman of Jewish Ferndale, several elected officials and Ferndale Chief of Police Vincent Palazzolo.

“In the face of adversity, we look for opportunities to transform the darkness into light,” Finman told the crowd. “In a personal way, reflect on what good act would make the world a better place when the world is looking darker.”

State Reps. Robert Wittenberg and Jeremy Moss both urged solidarity. “We come together and realize that words have meaning and that actions have consequences,” Wittenberg said. “Anyone who goes to pray should not have to worry about safety. We have differences, but we need to respect and appreciate those differences.”

Moss said he’s a board member at his synagogue and that they have to talk about increasing security, “but we cannot pray in fortresses,” he said to applause. “Hatred again seems to be growing and, sadly, that’s not entirely new. We persist because of our religious values. As Jews, we need to lead by example. There’s a lot of work to do to honor these victims. We need to make sure we are constantly battling rhetoric against anybody facing attack. We know what it’s like to be oppressed and we stand with them.”

Ferndale Police Chief Vincent Palazzolo assured the crowd the city’s police force has a watchful eye on the community, including Jewish Ferndale. “We will continue to have patrol cars drive through here more than usual,” he said.

people stand at a Jewish Ferndale vigil. Close up on a man wearing a kippah.
Rudy Thomas

County Commissioner Helaine Zack said she was at synagogue when the shooting happened. After her words at the vigil, she talked of how, as a social worker, she emphasizes that it’s important to take care of yourself in times of trauma by focusing on tools such as yoga or prayer or coming together as a community.

Judge Mark Goldsmith ended the vigil by chanting the Eil Malei Rachamim prayer. At its end, a woman started to say Kaddish aloud but was too emotional to continue.

The crowd contained mostly Jews, but many non-Jews as well, including Ann Heler, who lives near Jewish Ferndale. “I just wanted to lend support and be one more person to say we will not have this happen again,” said Heler, executive director of the FernCare Free Medical Clinic. “We can do it.”

The idea for the vigil came from Chana Finman of Jewish Ferndale, a Chabad Lubavitch organization. “We learned about the shooting when Rabbi Matthew Zerwekh of Temple Emanu-El, who lives nearby, came to say hello. He didn’t want to tell us on Shabbat, but had to tell us the news,” said Chana, wife of Rabbi Finman. “I said, ‘Let’s do something. We need to be with other people.’

“This morning, when the names [of the dead in Pittsburgh] came out, it was so personal. We needed to be with others to restore our faith in humanity and realize we’re all connected.”

State Rep. Jeremy Moss speaks to the crowd. Rudy Thomas

Find a list of Pittsburgh Shooting Detroit Area Vigils and Memorial Services