Temple Sinai, a Conservative synagogue in Dresher, planned its commemoration of the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting before Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. But the discussion about whether to proceed with the event was not really a discussion at all.
It was originally scheduled for Oct. 25 at Temple Sinai from 7-8:30 p.m., and it remains set for that day, place and time.
Oct. 27 will mark the fifth anniversary of the tragic shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue complex that took 11 lives. It remains the deadliest antisemitic attack in United States history. Rabbi Cheryl Klein, who served as cantor at Congregation Dor Hadash, one of the congregations that met at Tree of Life, will speak in Dresher on Oct. 25. The evening will also include discussions on “religious freedom and intolerance of all types in our country,” according to an event flyer.
Though it did not happen in the United States, the Hamas attack will now be part of that discussion. About 1,300 Israelis are dead. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared war.
“Just as the people of Israel grieved with the families of the synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, so, too, do the Jewish families of the world grieve with the families in Israel,” Klein said.
Rabbi Adam Wohlberg, who leads Temple Sinai, agreed that there’s a connection between “what’s going on in Israel and what we’re commemorating here.”
“It’s the unmitigated hate and antisemitism that we’ve been dealing with for centuries,” he said.
What happened five years ago in Pittsburgh was a tragedy, according to Wohlberg. It also changed the Jewish community. Synagogues across the Philadelphia area now lock their doors and require visitors to check in.
Those details cannot be forgotten. Neither can the victims.
“Every soul is precious,” Wohlberg said. “We mourn them just as we mourn all the victims of the heinous atrocities that were committed in Israel this past Shabbat.”
Both events were different, according to Klein, who now lives in the Philadelphia area. The Pittsburgh shooting was “a beastly, brutal act of a single man who went down a dark hole of conspiracies and violence.” What happened in Israel was “a well thought out, heavily financed operation.”
“This was really a pogrom,” she said of the Hamas attack.
But the reason behind both attacks was similar.
“I think that when we gather as a community to remember the 11 precious souls, we do so because we want to highlight their love and commitment to the Jewish community,” Klein said. “But also to remind us that antisemitism is prevalent.”
When one Jew is murdered, others feel the pain, according to the former cantor. But pain should unify us and help us respond.
“The lesson we learned from Pittsburgh, the lesson that always seems to reveal itself, is we are Am Yisrael,” Klein said. “We’re a smart, resilient, peace-loving people. We’re mandated to repair the world. Tikkun olam.”
Klein will offer a similar message when she speaks at Temple Sinai.
“We will never let hate be the victor. Ever. That is my message. That will never happen,” she said. “It’s imperative that people understand that it’s important to have a response to what happened in Pittsburgh, and it’s important to have a response to this unprovoked attack.”
Klein was off on Oct. 27, 2018. Her daughter lived in the Philadelphia area, and the cantor was here celebrating her husband’s 65th birthday. On Shabbat morning, she got a call.
“It turned not only my world upside down but the entire Jewish world of the Pittsburgh community upside down,” she recalled. “How could this be? How could this happen?”
But in the wake of the tragedy, her community continued to gather. It stayed resilient. And allies from other faiths joined them.
“The community was shown great love around the world,” Klein said.
At Temple Sinai on Oct. 25, Monsignor Gregory Fairbanks from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Rep. Napoleon Nelson of District 154 (Montgomery County) in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, also will speak.
Fairbanks is going to discuss “another denomination’s response to the hatred we saw in Pittsburgh and what we need to do to combat it today,” Wohlberg said. Nelson will talk about “the need to stand up to hatred of all kinds,” the rabbi added.
“And now at a time where Israel has felt very much under attack from people around the world, I’m hoping that our allies will come forward again,” Wohlberg concluded.