Leaders in the Jewish community in Gloucester County preach love at recent vigil

A crowd gathered in Mullica Hill to preach the message “love over hate” following the Oct. 26 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

Mourners remember the 11 victims lost on the Oct. 27 shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue by lighting candles and putting forth the idea of “love not hate” (Krystal Nurse/The Sun).

By KRYSTAL NURSE

The Sun

On Oct. 30, the Chabad Jewish Center of Gloucester County coordinated a candlelight vigil at the Mullica Hill Baptist Church to remember the 11 men and women who were killed in a shooting at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27.

Shortly before 10 a.m. on Oct. 27, Robert Bowers allegedly opened fire during the Tree of Life’s baby-naming ceremony, according to local news reports. The crime is now being investigated as a hate crime, as the suspect was allegedly heard stating, by witness reports, “kill the Jews, I’m here to kill the Jews.”

Joyce Fienberg, 75, Richard Gottfried, 65, Rose Mallinger, 97, Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, Cecil Rosenthal, 59, David Rosenthal, 54, Bernice Simon, 84, Sylvan Simon, 87, Daniel Stein, 71, Melvin Wax, 88, and Irving Younger, 69, were the 11 victims of the shooting, and several others were injured.

Rabbi Avi Richler’s wife Mina read aloud the names of everyone who died that day during the vigil, complemented with pictures showing who they are.

Mourners remember the 11 victims lost on the Oct. 27 shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue (Krystal Nurse/The Sun).

In response to the shooting, Richler, of Mullica Hill, founder and rabbi of the Chabad Jewish Center, urged everyone at the vigil to spread love instead of hate, and to reach out to others in any way possible.

“In general, do a random act of goodness and kindness,” said Richler. “Smile at someone, say ‘hello,’ reach out. Don’t wait for tragedy to do a good deed. Fill your days and nights with random acts of goodness and kindness.”

Freeholder Jim Jefferson offered an opening prayer at the start of the vigil, stating, in part, “I pray that all of those that are here today, be changed, that this is not just an event in Gloucester County, but that it is the start where love is pursued, where our speech matters, and where we value people.”

In the prayer, he asked everyone to be touched by kindness and to stand by and say “enough is enough,” in reference to a rise in hate in the world.

Mullica Hill resident Paul Matz, of the B’Nai Tikvah-Beth Israel synagogue from Sewell, Washington Township, said his location was greeted, on Oct. 28, with officers from the Washington Township Police Department as they hosted their Hebrew School for Children.

(Left to right) Assemblyman John Burzichelli, Freeholer Jim Jefferson, Freeholder Director Robert Damminger, Freeholder Joe Chila and Harrison Township Mayor Louis Manzo are pictured behind the 11 torches lit in memory of the victims from the Oct. 27 Pittsburgh shooting (Krystal Nurse/The Sun).

“It was sort of comforting the horrifying,” said Matz. “We’re very glad that they were there, but this shouldn’t happen. We should be able to do these things like go to a church, synagogue or a mosque without having to worry about their safety.”

For this to occur in a place of worship, Matz added it was horrifying since his daughter’s bar mitzvah was recently held at the synagogue with several members from the congregation and family. He added they were a target of threats two months ago, and police were present at the synagogue making sure nothing happened.

“Over the last two years, we’ve secured our doors and been more safe, just in general when thinking about events like this,” said Matz. “With the police involved, and we’ve been more into security and making sure we’re safe while we’re there.”

Richler reflected back on his statement made during the vigil to request everyone to take the hand of a stranger and “to promise [on Oct. 30] that you will reach out and give love, hope and healing to a stranger next week, and the week after it, and every week and every day. You will fill this world with light and with love, harmony, and only then, would we never have to stand out here in sadness.”

“So, tragedy or not, loving another human being should be a natural thing,” Richler said following the vigil. “Yes, it’s a beautiful response to tragedy, but it needs to be our attitude from the get-go. If it was our attitude from the get-go, we would never have tragedies because we would learn to appreciate and respect each other.”

County Freeholder Director Robert Damminger said at the vigil an event like the shooting has evolved from happening once every 20 years, to every 10, five, monthly, to almost weekly.

A portrait of Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, is pictured casting on the side of the Mullica Hill Baptist Church on Oct. 30 (Krystal Nurse/The Sun).

“It’s a sad statement, but it’s reality,” said Richler. “It resonates with me, but that means we’re not doing enough. We’re not doing enough education, we’re not doing enough to reach out and we’re not doing enough to touch each other.”

“These things were a tragedy and happened 20 years ago, and once a month and a week,” said Matz, reflecting on the statement by Damminger. “It’s horrifying to think that our kids are growing up with this as their new normal.”

With this specific shooting occurring at a place of worship, Richler added it doesn’t just attack those who follow a certain religion, that it’s on anyone else who believes in anything.

“I don’t care if it happened in a bar, or a house, place of worship or mechanic’s shop, it happened,” said Richler. “Even if someone is an atheist, they deserve the right to be loved.”

As the memorial fell into the darkness of the night, it was illuminated with the candles, 11 torches and the lights on the 9/11 memorial behind them. Richler added everyone shined their light into darkness and hate at the evening’s event.

“A little bit of light can dispel a tremendous amount of darkness,” said Richler. “Can you imagine what a lot of light can do? So that’s what it’s all about.”

Photos: Leaders in the Gloucester County Jewish community hold vigil following recent shooting.