Over a thousand people gathered Saturday on the Boston Common Sunday for a vigil that honored those who died in the shooting at Tree of Life Congregation, a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Approximately 1,200 people were in attendance at the start of the vigil at 2 p.m., and the crowd continued to grow until its culmination. Some in the crowd joined hands, and others cried as the ceremony progressed.
Several elected officials, rabbis, law enforcement officers and interfaith religious leaders said during the vigil that now is the time to find strength in community and combat hateful rhetoric.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said at the vigil that it is the duty of Americans to uphold the fundamental ideals of the nation in the face of terror.
“The pain, the horror, the anger and the outrage that come with Pittsburgh are a constant reminder to the rest of us that there will always be work to do,” Baker said. “None of us should ever abandon our commitment to build a better and a stronger and a more inclusive Commonwealth and a more inclusive country.”
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, who also spoke at the vigil, commended Tree of Life for welcoming strangers into their community.
“This was an anti-Semitic mass murder, what happened yesterday in Pittsburgh,” Walsh said, “driven by scapegoating hatred, enabled by high-powered weapons. They were at a synagogue to welcome new life, and they were targeted because they welcomed the refugee and the immigrant. That’s what we’re going to continue to do, continue to welcome people and open our arms.”
The religious leaders who spoke said their communities need to unite together in the face of tragedy.
Rabbi Marc Baker, president and CEO of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, said during the vigil that the Jewish people must continue to derive strength from the Tree of Life symbol, the namesake of the synagogue in Pittsburgh.
“It’s not lost on many of us that the name of this synagogue is one of the most powerful symbols in the Jewish tradition,” Baker said. “For thousands of years, the Jewish people has endured, through joys and through sorrows. Because our Tree of Life has reminded us of where we come from and of what matters most. Our resilience enables us to overcome even when some try to break us.”
Other Massachusetts leaders, like Rep. Joe Kennedy III, used their time to address divisive politics and read the names of the 11 victims.
“We will not sit idly by while hatred finds quarter in our United States,” Kennedy said. “We will not accept a government that gives cover to anyone that seeks to scapegoat, to target or attack any brother or sister among us.”
Sen. Ed Markey said the nation is divided between talking about freedom of religion and the tension surrounding gun reform.
“We are being torn apart by bigotry and division when we know that the United States stands for unity and freedom,” Markey said. “Hate has no place in a house of worship, and neither does an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.”
Vigil attendee Paul Shupe, 60, a minister at the Hancock United Church of Christ, said he felt that it was important that he attend the rally to show support for the Jewish community.
“Anti-Semitism, in any of its forms, has no place,” the Lexington resident said in an interview. “We wanted very much to be here as a symbol of solidarity with our interfaith colleagues.”
Shupe said he rejects President Donald Trump’s comment that, had the congregants been armed, there may have been a different result.
“Asking people of faith to arm themselves is asking them to lose an important part of their soul,” Shupe said. “We can’t be who we are and be armed to the teeth and do violence. We could do that only at the cost of our souls, a price we would be unwilling to pay.”
Yevgenia Khodor-Tolan, of West Roxbury, said in an interview that she attended the vigil because she felt a personal connection to the shooting.
“I was in college at Carnegie Mellon, and I lived in Squirrel Hill for the last two years [of college],” the 36-year-old said. “Going to the vigil helped. It helped to not feel so alone.”
Jacob Wessel, 27, of the South End, said he thought it was important to focus on the loss of the victims instead of politics.
“I don’t buy into people making snide comments, and now, having them dominate the conversation,” Wessel said in an interview. “This is about people who were shot at a Shabbat service yesterday.”
The vigil ended with a reading of the Mourner’s Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for remembering the dead. After the program, attendees formed circles around the Common and sang together in Hebrew.
“We will continue to stand together as we have in the past,” Wessel said. “Jews certainly know how to persevere.”
More on the “singing together in Hebrew” that followed the formal conclusion of the event: