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Tree of Life: Sadness — and calls to action — at Seattle vigil

Mourners gathered at Seattle’s Temple De Hirsch Sinai Monday night to commemorate those lost in Pittsburgh over the weekend and build community through the tragedy.

“Tonight Pittsburgh is a town in Washington state, and the Tree of Life synagogue is a synagogue in Washington state, and the reason for that is that we have one heart over the loss of this assault on the Jewish community,” Governor Jay Inslee said. “We all share a common destiny of hoping for survival and that survival depends on eliminating the concept that there is an other.”

More than a thousand people were estimated to have filled the temple on 16th Ave just off E Madison with hundreds more gathering outside as lines stretched around the building.

Organized by Capitol Hill-based Jewish Family Service, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, and Temple De Hirsch Sinai the evening honored the 11 people who were gunned down Saturday by an attacker at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue in a week of radical, political and hate motivated terror across the county.

Monday’s vigil in Seattle was held with tight security as police surrounded the building and searched every bag entering the building.

The evening’s proceedings began with Hebrew music performed by Chava Mirel, Neil Weinstein, and Rabbi Daniel Weiner that captured the grief of the audience. The following speakers — more than a dozen — tried to assure the crowd that there is a way forward through the horrific event and urged those in attendance to be compassionate in difficult times.

“We cannot choose our fate, but we can choose how we respond, what we do, who we are, and who we strive to be,” Weiner of Temple De Hirsch Sinai said, opening the vigil.

“The Tree of Life has been struck at the root, but we can, with love and hope and understanding, and, yes, even with forgiveness, plant new trees with love, not death, who will get the last word,” Father Michael Ryan of St. James Cathedral said.

Reverend Kelle Brown from Plymouth Church both sang and delivered a similar message.

“Remind us that there are still seeds within our souls and that we will grow yet another Tree of Life together,” Brown said.

Rabbi Will Berkovitz of Jewish Family Service of Seattle connected this attack to the discrimination inflicted on a number of other communities across the country.

“We must not be bystanders to what is happening in our country; we will be held responsible, whether it’s a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh or a Black church in Charleston, whether it’s an attack on Jews or an attack on Muslims, an attack on refugees and immigrants, attack on gay people or transgender people, attacking people for who they are or who they love is an evil,” Berkovitz said as he was met with a loud applause from the audience.

One audience member near the stage held a sign reading “Muslim Americans stand with you.” Another one said “Arab Americans stand with you.” A sign was left at Jewish Family Service Sunday that said “hate will not win, your neighbors are with you.” That sign stood on the stage for the entirety of the vigil.

Outside, around 1,000 people gathered, sang, and lit candles and lights to honor the dead.

Inside the synagogue, local religious leaders came to the stage and lit candles for the 11 victims and read their names aloud.

The performance of a song by Jewish-American singer Matisyahu helped bring an end to the evening.

“Sometimes in my tears I drown, but I never let it get me down, so when negativity surrounds, I know some day it’ll all turn around,” the song goes.

Rabbi Weiner ended the evening with a call to act.

“We rise from mourning and reflection to action and change; change that is within our hands if we will it to be so,” Weiner said. “Turn to the person next to you and tell them ‘we are going to make a difference.’”

A video recording of the vigil is available here.

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Gitai Ben-Ammi
Gitai Ben-Ammi
2 years ago

Please correct Chava’s name. She’s an amazing musician in our community. Thank you for your coverage. It was beautiful.

2 years ago
Reply to  Gitai Ben-Ammi

Fixed. Very sorry for the error.