May 20, 2019

1,500 Attend L.A. Vigil for Pittsburgh Shooting Victims

An estimated 1,500 people from all Jewish walks of life turned out to the vigil in Westwood for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack. Photo by Allie Levin

On Oct. 27, Shiva Mehrannia was observing Shabbat at the Young Sephardic Community Center in Pico-Robertson when someone stood up to announce that a terrible shooting had taken place at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Mehrannia could not believe her ears.

“I was very disturbed,” she recalled while attending a candlelight vigil at the West Los Angeles Federal Building in Westwood on Oct. 28, one day after alleged gunman Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life synagogue in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill and shot at worshippers during Saturday morning services, killing 11 and wounding six.

L.A. Vigil for Tree of Life

The L.A. Community honors and remembers the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting.

Posted by Jewish Journal on Monday, October 29, 2018

An estimated 1,500 people — seeking comfort, answers and solace in the wake of what has been called the deadliest attack ever against American Jewry — came to the vigil that featured interfaith leaders, elected officials and Jewish community members of every denomination,

Jay Sanderson, CEO and president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, was among the speakers.

“The truth is, 11 people died in that synagogue and a piece of all of us died in that synagogue, Jewish and not Jewish,” Sanderson said in a phone interview the day after the vigil. “We are all one community. We all go to a house of worship, a synagogue in this particular case, because we feel safe and want to pray and feel connected to God.”

“I remain heartbroken about the event,” he said.

Additional speakers and participants in the gathering included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg; Rabbis Sharon Brous, Jason Weiner, David Wolpe, Benjamin Ross and Susan Goldberg; Cantor Lizzie Weiss and organizer David Bocarsly.

“The entire people of Israel grieve with the families of the people who were murdered in the shocking massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh,” Grundwerg said. “On behalf of myself, the Consulate of Israel here in Los Angeles, the Government of Israel and the people of Israel, from the depth of our hearts, I send our condolences to the families who lost their loved ones.” 

The event also featured Christian and Muslim religious leaders, including Pastor Carlos Rincon of Centro de Vida Victoriosa Church in East Los Angeles, the Reverend Kelvin Sauls of Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles and Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.

“The breadth of people at this event — of all different ages, of all different religious backgrounds, standing with one another — it’s hugely powerful to our hearts and souls,” said Temple Akiba Rabbi Zach Shapiro in an interview. “Just as people said ‘I am Charlie Hebdo,’ just as they said ‘I am Charleston,’ today the entire world is saying ‘I am Jewish,’ and it means the world to us.”

“Just as people said ‘I am Charlie Hebdo,’ just as they said ‘I am Charleston,’ today the entire world is saying ‘I am Jewish,’ and it means the world to us.”
— Rabbi Zach Shapiro

Wearing a T-shirt that said “Love is Love,” featuring an image of five Jewish stars forming a multicolored chain, Shapiro attended the vigil with his husband, Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin, who told the Journal the shooting in Pittsburgh “is a wake-up and a reminder we have so much work to do in this country.”

An estimated 1,500 people from all Jewish walks of life turned out to the vigil in Westwood for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack. Photo by Amira Alhassan

While the event aimed to be apolitical, the more than 75 groups organizing or endorsing the event included progressive groups such as Bend the Arc: Jewish Action and IfNotNow, which have criticized President Donald Trump’s rhetoric for emboldening extremists, including the Pittsburgh shooter. 

Aside from the occasional anti-Trump sign — one large sign held on the edge of the vigil called for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to go — the gathering focused on denouncing anti-Semitism and expressing Jewish pride. 

Addressing the crowd as they held memorial candles glowing in the darkness just after sunset, Temple Isaiah Rabbi Zoe Klein Miles turned to Proverbs 20:27.

“The soul of the person is the candle of God,” she said, before reading the names of the victims, leading the crowd in the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish and calling for a moment of silence. The chanting of “We are Jews” followed.

The vigil was one of several tributes held in Los Angeles in response to the attack in Pittsburgh. On Oct. 29, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles held a private ceremony at its Beverly Grove headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard. That evening, L.A. City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield held a vigil at L.A. City Hall and several Modern Orthodox synagogues held a prayer session at Beth Jacob Congregation.

The Federation and the American Jewish Committee also encouraged people to attend Shabbat services on Nov. 3 in solidarity with the victims of the attack.

At a vigil at the Wilshire Federal Building for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue, people brought along memorial candles to mourn those killed in the attack. Photo by Amira Alhassan

“We are convening nationally this ‘Solidarity Shabbat’ on Saturday to make sure every single synagogue in this community, as well as every synagogue nationally, gets to celebrate Shabbat but also recognize the tremendous loss of life in Pittsburgh,” Sanderson said.

Mehrannia said she did not need an organized initiative to compel her to go to synagogue. As the vigil crowd began to disperse, she said the only way the Jewish community can demonstrate that extremists like the Pittsburgh shooter have not won is to continue leading a Jewish life. 

“We’re Jews,” she said. “I feel connected to people all over the world, and I want to show [the anti-Semites] they can keep trying to kill us, but we’re united and we’re not scared. We’re going to continue going to synagogue and continue being together and loving each other and showing support.”