Since the anti-Semitic shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Saturday, October 27, the Jewish community of Corvallis has found support through shared grief and activism.
Sunday evening following the attack, Corvallis Rabbi Phil Bresler of Beit Am synagogue gathered Beit Am members, who often lovingly refer to themselves as Beit Amniks, to light a mourner’s candle. This ritual symbolizes “the still existent light of those murdered,” explained Beit Am Burial Society President, Amy Buccola.
The Pittsburg attack occurred during the Jewish Sabbath, called Shabbat. Many Jews do not use electronic devices during Shabbat to respect it as a day of worship and rest, and did not find out about the news until that evening.
“This past Shabbat when we lost 11 members of our tribe, we lost an innocence as well. Many of us are feeling vulnerable as past slaughters of our people collide with our reality, and as assaults we may have experienced in our own personal histories become fresh and frightening again,” Buccola reflected.
“Shabbat is supposed to be a day of peace and synagogues are supposed to be sanctuaries. That ideal has been shattered today and we grieve for it together,” said Bresler in a separate email to members following the closure of the weekly holiday.
In addition to seeking support from each other, Jews in Corvallis have felt the support of the greater community in a number of ways. On Sunday, Mohammed Siala of the Salman Alfarisl Islamic Center wrote a letter to the editor of the Gazette-Times (which was published last Thursday) offering condemnation of the attack and condolences to those impacted.
On the first Tuesday following the attack, a vase was found at the synagogue’s front door, containing 11 yellow roses, the names of those killed, and a candle.
The next day, during the Shacharit, or morning service, many non-Jews joined the regular attendees. These individuals came from a variety of backgrounds, including students from Oregon State University, and members of other local places of worship, that “spontaneously decided to come be with us, to sing, to chant, to daven [pray], and to share with us in our grief at this difficult time,” Beit Am member Yiftach Osterloh shared in another email to the Beit Am listserv.
Among non-regulars attending was Karen Bloom, a member of the First United Methodist Church, who presented the Jewish community with a letter of condolence signed by Reverend Barbara Nixon and about 60 members of their church, as well as a ceramic plate with 11 stones placed on top of it.
Osterloh expressed, “It was extraordinarily uplifting to be able to reaffirm our deep connection with our Beit Am sacred space alongside those beyond Beit Am who wish us the best, and show it by showing up in person to boldly impart their encouragement, and to give us hope that we are not alone.”
According to Beit Am President Robyn Pekala, the Corvallis Police Department has also reached out to the Jewish community. They offered condolences, increased their presence in the synagogue neighborhoods during the gatherings on Sunday, and met with leaders to discuss potential future safety measures on Tuesday.
Rabbi Bresler continued in his e-mail: “Tree of Life Congregation is named after a verse in Tanakh that speaks about the Torah. ‘It is a Tree of Life to all who hold fast to it.’ (Proverbs 3:18) We recite this passage each time we read the Torah as a celebration of its treasured place in our lives.
“Right now, what we need to do is hold fast. Hold fast to our loved ones who need us. Hold fast to our ideals. Hold fast to our Torah, which calls us to live lives of peace and goodness, even in a broken world.“
By Ari Blatt