NEWTON — A week ago, Shabbat services concluded with horror as news of the massacre that killed 11 Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue infiltrated the sanctified walls of Temple Emanuel in Newton.
On Saturday, services drew to a close in song as about 1,200 worshipers, including US Senator Elizabeth Warren, sang “America the Beautiful” in a show of solidarity and resilience.
Senior Rabbi Michelle Robinson pleaded for unity, saying the gunman at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood didn’t care whether his victims were Republicans or Democrats.
“Isn’t there enough hatred in this world? There is already too much darkness. Let us here today bring light,” Robinson said. “There is already too much division. Let us come together, not because we agree but because we can love each other even though we don’t always agree. The world needs us now.”
The standing-room-only gathering came amid a push by Jewish advocacy organizations to encourage Jews and non-Jews to attend Shabbat services Friday and Saturday. Some referred to the regular weekend services as Solidarity Shabbat, and the hashtag “#ShowUpForShabbat” was shared widely online.
Warren led the congregation in reciting the “Prayer for Our Country.” The killings in Pittsburgh, she said, were an effort to sow fear and tear people apart. They were particularly disturbing because of the memories they evoked, she said.
“This act of pure evil was an attack on the Jewish community not just in Pittsburgh, but all across our country,” Warren said. “Anti-Semitism is at the root of so many vile and hateful acts. The danger anti-Semitism poses is real and tangible.”
Senior Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz said Warren’s presence was symbolic of the government’s support for the Jewish community, a stark contrast from the state-sponsored anti-Semitism Jews experienced in Europe during the last century.
“In all of the other cases where we’ve known anti-Semitism, the government did it. The government was behind it. The government orchestrated it. The government caused it,” he said. “In this case, the government is . . . against it. The government sent in four police officers who took the first bullets to try to save Jewish lives.”
He invited congregants to return to the sanctuary after the service to discuss ways to transform political discourse.
“We are in a red or blue zone. You’re red or you’re blue. And you put on that jersey, the red jersey or the blue jersey, and that shapes everything. I’m hoping, my prayer is that this could be a moment where we move from red or blue to red, white, and blue,” he said. “Can we move from, ‘I’m a Republican,’ or ‘I’m a Democrat,’ to ‘I’m an American,’ to ‘I’m a human,’ to ‘I’m a Jew’ ?”
The Shabbat service marked some special occasions. The congregation celebrated birthdays and witnessed the bar mitvah of 13-year-old Aaron Stanger of Newton, whose late grandfather, Arthur, escaped Austria after its annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938.
Arthur Stanger later joined the US military and returned to Europe to fight in World War II, said his son, Harry Stanger.
The temple increased its security after the Pittsburgh shooting by stationing armed security guards at the entrances when the building is open. During a portion of Saturday’s Shabbat service, a Newton police officer stood inside the sanctuary.
Robinson said the upcoming Shabbat, which begins Friday, marks the 80th anniversary of “Kristallnacht,”when German Nazis torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools, and businesses, and killed Jews.
Warren said in an interview after the service that the nation faces a choice.
“What kind of country do we want to be? What kind of people do we want to be?” she asked. “I was here to worship with people who are determined to come together and reaffirm that we are one people who value each other.”