The gut-wrenching realization in the wake of the massacre of 11 Jewish worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue on the morning of Oct. 27 was … it could have happened here.
It could have happened anywhere Jews gather on Shabbat morning, their doors open to worshippers.
The man charged with the wanton slaughter at the Tree of Life-Or L’Simcha Congregation had made clear on social media his hatred of Jews. Ranging in age from 54 to 97, the eight men and three women killed were members of a unique Jewish community, one still centered in the city, not the suburbs, in a neighborhood called Squirrel Hill.
Numerous Jewish Atlantans – including Eric Robbins, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta – grew up in and around Squirrel Hill, at Tree of Life or another synagogue close by. Their pain was personal and intense.
In the wider community, shock was followed by sadness and grief, which brought Jews together at vigils and memorial services, several daily for a week, at congregations throughout the Atlanta area.
The 60th anniversary of the October 12, 1958, bombing of The Temple came two weeks before the Pittsburgh shootings, and the venerable Reform synagogue was just one where the pews filled for a memorial service. At some synagogues, the overflow spilled into hallways and out of doors.
Noticeable throughout that week were the number of non-Jews who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Jewish community, in the pews and on pulpits that rabbis and cantors shared with clergy of various faiths.
On the Shabbat after the tragedy, synagogues filled as greater-than-usual numbers of Jews heeded the slogan of an online campaign, #ShowUpForShabbat.
Beth Gluck, the Southeast region director of the Jewish National Fund, grew up in Squirrel Hill. News of the tragedy reached her in Phoenix, where she was attending a JNF meeting. Hours later Gluck told the Atlanta Jewish Times: “It’s really not a time to lean left or lean right. It’s a time to lean toward what’s good, toward what’s family. You don’t lean to the extremes. You lean to the healthy, vibrant center and you lean toward what you know is good.”
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