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Vt. Synagogues Hold Interfaith Services On First Shabbat After Pittsburgh Shooting

Bayla Metzger / VPR
Eleven candles burned at the Show Up For Shabbat service at Temple Sinai in South Burlington - one for each victim of the shooting at the Tree of Life synogague in Pittburgh.

Synagogues around the world—and around Vermont—invited Jewish people and those of other denominations to attend Jewish religious ceremonies this weekend. This came as part of the Show Up for Shabbatmovement, a national campaign to show solidarity with the Jewish community after last week’s shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

At sundown on Friday night, over 100 people packed into seats at Temple Sinai synagogue in South Burlington. A separating wall at the back of the room folded open like an accordion, so more rows of chairs could be added to accomodate a crowd that was much larger than on a typical Shabbat. At the front of the temple, 11 candles burned – one for each of the victims killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Rabbi David Edleson invited members of all faith communities to attend Friday's service. He urged the crowd to sing loudly and, if they didn't know the Jewish songs, to get the words wrong.

“I want us, tonight, to make up for the voices that we lost,” he told the congregation.

The local Muslim community was one of the first to confirm they'd attend the service. Taysir Al-Khatib, President of the Islamic Society of Vermont, says the Jewish and Muslim communities in Vermont have a strong relationship. Standing at the pulpit, Al-Khatib told those assembled that he was there “to hold up our brothers and sisters. To look at hatred and say enough – no more.”

Al-Khatib’s wife, Deborah, attended the service with him. She’s a retired nurse, and used to work with geriatric patients. She said this has been a hard week for her because many of the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting were senior citizens, which  brought up painful memories of her former patients. But, she says, being at the Shabbat service has helped her cope.

“You just feel the spirit of the people together,” she said. “I know everyone here tonight wasn’t Jewish, but we were all together. And I think that was a thing that felt wonderful.”

University of Vermont professors Clare Ginger and Trish O’Kane, who were both raised Catholic, also attended the service. They both said that taking the time to stand in solidarity with other religions feels especially important right now.

“You know what's going on, but you really don't spend much time thinking about it,” said Ginger. “So this is more of an opportunity to be aware of it and connect to the community-building that comes after such a horrible event.”

O’Kane, who read about the Show Up For Shabbat movement in the New York Times and then searched for a local service to attend, said the feeling of unity at interfaith gatherings since the Pittsburgh shooting is at odds with what’s happening in national politics.

“No matter what they say, we're coming together,” said O’Kane.

As the Shabbat service came to a close, Rabbi Edleson acknowledged the divisiveness he sees in society. He urged people to continue to come together, but also to vote for candidates who will work to bring peace when they cast ballots at the polls tomorrow.

Bayla joined VPR in 2018 as the producer for Morning Edition. She left in 2019.
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