Hundreds of people of untold faiths — Judaism, yes, but Islam and Christianity, too — gathered under one synagogue’s roof Monday evening, calling for an end to the hate that left 11 people slain in another synagogue hundreds of miles away.
Singing a mourner’s Kaddish, a crowd that spilled through the doorways of Temple Shalom in central Colorado Springs lamented the deadliest attack on Jews in the nation’s history. Their vigil marked the latest of countless held across the country, including one Sunday evening in Denver that drew more than 3,000 people, including Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Monday’s gathering was, at turns, a solemn call for peaceful unity and a rally against today’s vitriolic political rhetoric. Many orators punctuated their tributes with calls to end the nation’s epidemic of gun violence, which has turned an ever-growing list of worship houses — Christian churches, a Sikh temple and a synagogue — into massacre sites.
Flanked by a Christian minister and an Islamic leader, Rabbi Jay Sherwood repeated the same phrase again and again: “We are stronger than hate.”
“What an unbelievable show of community,” said Sherwood, of Temple Shalom.
Dozens of clergy members from myriad faiths offered a show of solidarity. Just days before the Pittsburgh synagogue attack Saturday, a man in Kentucky reportedly sought to commit a similar massacre at a predominantly black church. When no one was there, authorities say, he left and shot dead two black people shopping at a nearby Kroger store.
The Rev. Ben Anderson of Solid Rock Christian Center praised the community for gathering in unity and in spirit, seeking an end to the drumbeat of mass shootings.
“We must continue to march toward love,” Anderson said.
Arshad Yousufi, spokesman for the Islamic Society of Colorado Springs, issued a call to action against such hate, reminding the hundreds before him of the similarities their faiths share.
“We should pray, but also along with the prayer, there should be this action, so we can convey a message of respect and tolerance and peace,” Yousufi said.
The prayer vigil came as anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise, along with an increase in public displays by white supremacists.
In Colorado, anti-Semitic incidents rose from 18 in 2015 to 45 the following year and 57 last year, said Scott L. Levin, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. The state is on track to roughly equal last year’s total. The incidents include assaults, verbal harassment and swastika graffiti, he said.
The ADL also has counted about 50 public expressions from white supremacists this year, such as passing out leaflets or hanging banners on overpasses. Leaflets were circulated about two weeks ago at Pikes Peak Community College, as well as twice in September, once at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and again at Colorado College.
Only a year ago, vandals hit Temple Beit Torah, where a swastika and other anti-Semitic messages — including a Nazi salute — were spray-painted on the synagogue. Several nearby cars, homes and buildings also were vandalized.
For many, the massacre in Pittsburgh bore echoes of past persecution. The synagogue shootings came just two weeks shy of the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht — the infamous Night of Broken Glass when mobs in Nazi Germany rounded up and killed Jews, beginning the Holocaust, which resulted in the murders of about 6 million Jews.
Daniel Schnee’s grandfather was in Germany when the violence erupted, and he survived the subsequent trip to a concentration camp before finding safety in America. Hearing of the shooting in the Pittsburgh synagogue immediately summoned fears of a return to that night.
“Eighty years ago, and yet here we sit again, and I have the uneasy feeling that we are in a similar crossroads in our country today as Germany was 80 years ago,” said Schnee, president of Temple Shalom. “It’s unbelievable to think that that’s true, but it is true.”
In a statement earlier Monday, Mayor John Suthers called the attacks “disgusting acts of cowardice.” His deputy chief of staff, Bret Waters, was just as blunt during the vigil. “There is no place for hatred and discrimination here.”
Even so, for the local Jewish community, the attack invoked horrifying memories of the long history of persecution against Jews across the world.
“When you come to temple, you wonder if it’s going to happen,” said Jeremy Loew, who has attended the synagogue for eight years. “It’s not unexpected.”
Leah Rachlis’ voice quaked as she described the attack.
“As a Jewish woman, a Jewish mother, a Jewish daughter, the horror of the Holocaust is ingrained in my being,” said Rachlis, who has attended Temple Beit Torah for decades. “My parents are first-generation Americans. All of my grandparents left Europe because of the atrocities there.
“My grief is for our community — for my children and my children’s children — and I have to stand up.”
Echoes of that lost sense of security were evident Monday evening.
Several police officers patrolled the synagogue’s grounds during the service. Inside, Chief Pete Carey called for an end to the hate and violence, saying simply: “Enough.”
“I learned that as a family, a police department, a community or a nation, what we ignore or don’t take seriously, we ultimately accept as part of our lives,” Carey said. “While no community is immune to hate or violence, we can’t continue to accept it as a risk we live with each and every day.
“We will be relentless in our work to prevent these evil deeds and prosecute those that are responsible.”
In his experience, Colorado Springs has been welcoming toward the Jewish community, said Harold Eichenbaum, a nearly 50-year resident and a founding member of Temple Beit Torah.
But all it takes is “one depraved person” to shatter it all, he said.
“I came here to be a part of the community and to mourn what went on, because it affects everyone all over the country, all over the world. Our lives will never be the same again. We don’t know when there’s going to be another crazy person.”
But, he was quick to clarify: “We’re not running scared.”
Surrounded by dozens of other religious leaders, local rabbis vowed to stand strong.
Gathered before the hundreds keeping vigil, their arms over 11 white roses, they prayed together while the names of the 11 slain worshippers in Pittsburgh were read for everyone to hear. Their prayer ended with the names of the two people killed days earlier in Kentucky.
“In Pittsburgh, we had a madman seeking to destroy, seeking to kill,” Schnee said. “In this room, we have a gallery of people who come in peace, who go in peace and who will work for peace.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been changed to reflect the correct relative of Schnee who survived the Holocaust, as well as the correct attribution for the final quote.