Hundreds honor Pittsburgh shooting victims at St. Paul vigil

Carin Mrotz of the JCA, right, receives a hug.
Carin Mrotz of Jewish Community Action, right, receives a hug from Asma Mohammed of Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment. The two were among the speakers at Mt. Zion Temple's interfaith vigil for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

As the sun set Monday, hundreds of people streamed into Mt. Zion Temple in St. Paul. The interfaith service to honor those killed in Pittsburgh's Tree of Life congregation drew a crowd so big, that it spilled out of the large sanctuary into two overflow rooms. Some parked their cars on the grass in the middle of Summit Avenue.

The first funerals are scheduled to take place Tuesday for some of the 11 people killed in the attack. Authorities say the alleged gunman expressed hatred of Jews as he opened fire on worshipers. The massacre has led to an outpouring of sympathy and support for Jewish communities across the country.

After the sounding of the shofar, a hollowed-out ram's horn, Mt. Zion cantor Rachel Stock Spilker noted that the attack nearly 900 miles away still felt close to home for many in the Twin Cities Jewish community. But for her, it was home. Spilker taught at the Tree of Life synagogue's Hebrew school for a time and grew up in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

During an interfaith vigil at Mt. Zion Temple.
During the vigil, attendees were encouraged to shake hands and tell someone they had never met "what was in their heart."
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

"It's a place where people don't just talk about caring for one another, they simply do it. It is literally Mr. Rogers' neighborhood," Spilker recalled. "He lived a mere few blocks away from Tree of Life."

Spilker said she did not know any of the victims personally, but is making a point of learning about each of them.

Ahead of Saturday's attack, the suspect allegedly ranted online about the Jewish refugee agency HIAS, originally known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Robert Bowers appeared to have said "HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people."

Beth Gendler, who leads the Minnesota chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women, said HIAS gave her father a new life after World War II.

Mt. Zion Temple held an interfaith vigil Monday.
At the end of the service, all clergy members in the crowd were asked to come to the stage and join in a song of hope.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

"He escaped Nazi Germany on a Kindertransport, spent the war in foster care in England and was finally able to come to the U.S. in 1946," Gendler said. "It's not hyperbole to say without HIAS I would not be here. And if there's a glimmer of hope that grows out of this horror, it's that more people will know about the amazing work that HIAS does that truly makes America great."

Mt. Zion also welcomed Christian and Muslim leaders to the service Monday night. Nausheena Hussain with RISE — Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment — said the attack on Jewish elders in Pittsburgh was an attack on all people of faith.

"We as Muslim women stand not simply as allies and in solidarity, but as your sisters. Grieving the loss of our Jewish brothers and sisters, our elderly. Our hearts are broken," Hussain said. "As a house of the almighty was attacked, our house was attacked also."

The Rev. Nancy Nord Bence, a Lutheran minister and executive director of the gun control advocacy group Protect Minnesota, said the New Testament story of Jesus moving the stone from Lazarus' tomb before raising him from the dead has resonance now.

The sanctuary area of Mt. Zion Temple was packed to capacity.
The sanctuary area of Mt. Zion Temple in St. Paul was packed to capacity with even the standing room spots filled.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

"The massive stone of calcified hatred and bigotry and white supremacy and gun violence in this nation will not be moved by some miraculous action on God's part, because God didn't put it there. Humanity did," Nord Bence said.

Before the crowd left the temple, Rabbi Tamar Grimm of the Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights read the names of the dead from the shooting at Tree of Life.

Grimm said her initial instinct was to say the mourner's kaddish, a prayer said by close relatives, but Grimm said that ancient tradition didn't quite fit because people of all faiths are mourning together as one extended family.

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