Standing shoulder to shoulder, more than 60 people crammed into the Chabad Jewish Center of Wyoming on Monday night.
They lit candles, sang and prayed for peace just two days after the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.
“We are not here to discuss the political meaning of this tragedy,” Chabad Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn said. “We are not here to discuss the implications of how this affects the gun control debate or what the relevance of this heart-wrenching tragedy means for the upcoming election.
“We are gathered to mourn, to cry, to share in pain, to share in hope, to collectively gather our strength to be able to move forward after such a tragedy of epic proportions.”
Jewish and non-Jewish mourners listened Monday night as the names of the victims were read aloud. Eleven men and women were killed Saturday in a shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
“This one is different,” Mendelsohn told the group. “This hit us too close for comfort. Pittsburgh, only 1,800 miles away in the land of the free and the home of the brave, the greatest country to ever exist. This hits straight to the heart.”
Two more gatherings, one Friday and one Sunday, will take place in Jackson for residents to gather and pray and write encouraging letters to their East Coast congregants.
Robert Gregory Bowers, 46, was arrested for the deadly attack and is being held without bail. Besides his job as a truck driver, little else is known about the suspect.
Bowers is expected back in court tomorrow for a preliminary hearing. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.
“He said all Jews must die,” Mendelsohn said. “Throughout history we’ve heard those words. How many more times do we need to see palaces and prayer shawls drenched in blood? Instead of dying together we are now called upon to be living together.”
Before concluding, Mendelsohn asked his visitors to consider completing 11 acts of kindness this week on behalf of the 11 victims.
“I encourage each and every one of us to find the values of Torah, the values of Jewish tradition that have brought so much light, goodness and kindness to the world,” he said, “and to find ways to implement that in your life.”
He also suggested that Jewish and non-Jewish residents of Jackson display mezuzahs — a religious parchment displayed as a sign of faith — at their houses, in an act of solidarity.
“Get yourself a mezuzah and put it by your front door. Take a stand not just today but every day,” he said. “I applaud you for taking a stand and standing in solidarity with the Jewish community. Your participation here means the world to us.”
Since Saturday’s massacre Mendelsohn said he’s received condolences from neighbors and elected officials.
“Over the last couple days people have been calling to comfort me and our community as if we have lost our own family members,” he said. “Today Governor Mead called.”
The intimate gathering and Mendelsohn’s words helped restore the spirits of some members of the local Jewish community.
“I think having the strength of the community and community members is so important and heart warming and essential as people,” said Audrey Cohen-Davis, a Jackson resident and Pennsylvania native. “The fact that our past seems to be surfacing through hatred again and creating a division is horrible. I attended because I wanted to honor the victims and say a prayer for the people who were killed.”