BY JAELYN LENTZ AND CAMERON BOLTON
A memorial in honor of the 11 people killed and the seven more who were injured in the mass shooting that occurred at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was held on Oct. 29 at the Tifereth Israel Synagogue in Des Moines.
“After the tragedy in Pittsburgh it was important to stand up and say we can still be loving neighbors, care for each other, support each other in religious freedom,” said Rev. Susan Sickelka, a Christian minister who had come in solidarity of the Jewish community “Of course, Christians and Jews and Muslims have a lot of things in common and so it was important for us to come to support a grieving community.”
The vigil’s attendants were those from the Jewish community and from various different faiths. There was quite a large amount of people in attendance, and so the synagogue ran out of space inside. People then circled around the building to show their support.
“I think what was really important about the vigil was the non-Jewish community wanted to be able to show their support for us and I think it was good that we had all different people doing that,” said Rabbi Emily Barton, who has worked at the Tifereth Israel Synagogue since July of 2017. “Especially now, when everything is really politically and otherwise very divisive in this country, the opportunity that people who are not Jewish hear from their particular faith leaders or faith leaders that they respect, it was really important for that to happen. And I also think it was really important for the Jewish community to hear support from different faith leaders and know that they support us.”
According to Barton, the vigil was similar to a memorial service or a funeral. Interspersed between the songs, psalms and other elements of a Jewish memorial service, they also had speakers from the non-Jewish community.
“We had a lot of Jews from the community and a lot of non-Jews, way more than we anticipated. It was very beautiful and people spoke really wonderfully I thought,” Barton said. “We tried to really represent the wide spectrum of religious beliefs and practices and ideologies in the room and that’s basically what it was.”
Rabbi David Kaufman, the rabbi at the Temple B’nai Jeshurun, was the main visionary of the vigil, according to Barton. Together, they worked alongside Connie Ryan, executive director of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines to make the vigil possible. Ryan handled the logistics and press while Kaufman and Barton selected the speakers for the event. The Tifereth Israel Synagogue was selected to be the location for having the most flexible space, according to Barton.
At a time of heightened concerns for safety, Barton offers advice.
“Don’t let your fear get in the way of living your life, but also make sure that you are vigilant about, you know, looking after yourself and your surroundings and that’s just not for Jewish people. I think that’s for everybody,” said Barton.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF GRACE HULIN