Austin Unites at Community Vigil in Wake of Pittsburgh Tragedy
K’lal Yisrael: Jewish Communities Find Strength in Solidarity in Wake of Tragedy
By Tonyia Cone
The day after 11 people were killed and more injured at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue at an October 27 Shabbat service—as many American Jews saw their worst fears realized in the deadliest act of anti-Semitism in North American history —people from Austin and beyond came together on the Dell Jewish Community Campus in a show of unity and support for Jewish communities across the country.
So many Jews and non-Jews attended the Austin Jewish community vigil of peace and healing, after about 650 people filled the JCC Community Hall, about 150 more spilled outside the building onto the lawn, where they created second vigil. The vigil was organized by Shalom Austin, local congregations and Jewish organizations.
Shalom Austin CEO Rabbi Daniel Septimus said, “I am so overwhelmed and touched by the outpouring of support from the Jewish and non-Jewish community. It was a true moment of solidarity for not only the Austin Jewish community, but for the entire interfaith and Austin community.”
Speakers discussed the need to stand against hatred and bigotry and the importance of "doubling down" on spiritual practice in the aftermath of the tragedy. Law enforcement representatives told the crowd of their support for the Jewish community.
Those in attendance were greeted with an opportunity to send support to the Pittsburgh community and later, to lift up candles in remembrance of those killed in the tragedy.
Speakers in the Community Hall included Shalom Austin CEO Rabbi Daniel Septimus, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Anti-Defamation League Austin Regional Director Renee Lafair, Austin Police Department Chief of Staff Troy Gay and United States Attorney John Bash.
Clergy from Austin synagogues spoke and sang at the event as well. Rabbi Gail Swedroe from Congregation Agudas Achim opened with the invocation. Rabbi Daniel Millner from Congregation Tiferet Israel led the mourner’s kaddish and El Maleh Rachamim. Rabbi Steven Folberg from Congregation Beth Israel and Rabbi Amy Cohen from Temple Beth Shalom spoke at the vigil. Cantor Yitzhak Ben-Moshe of Congregation Beth-El, Rabbi and Cantor Marie Betcher, Rabbi and Cantor Robbi Sherwin, and Cantor Abby Gostein of Temple Beth Shalom, sang together at the event.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg Sofer, Texas State Representatives Gina Hinojosa and Celia Israel, Travis County Judge Jan Soifer, Austin City Council Members Alison Alter and Ann Kitchen, Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday and UT Austin's Chief of Police David Carter also attended.
The indoor vigil wrapped up with support from the interfaith community. Clergy from many faiths filled the stage for a concluding prayer before attendees moved outside to sing in unity with those on the lawn.
“These are the moments when we’re reminded of the light in the world, even when it seems very dark,” said Septimus. ■
Local spiritual institutions and other organizations are available to provide emotional support, and details on how you can fight hatred.
For details on how you can fight hate, visit www.austin.adl.org.
To provide financial support to the families and loved ones of the victims and those affected, donate to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh–Our Victims of Terror Fund: www.jewishpgh.org/our-victims-of-terror-fund.