ROCK ISLAND — A standing-room only crowd of more than 200 people came together Sunday night at the Tri-City Jewish Center for a memorial service to honor the victims of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
On Oct. 27, a single gunman shot nearly 20 people at the city’s Tree of Life Congregation synagogue. Eleven people were killed. Robert Bowers, the accused gunman who was wounded in a shootout with police, survived and faces 44 felony counts on murder, hate crimes and weapons charges.
Rabbis Linda Bertenthal of Temple Emanuel in Davenport and Jeffrey Lipschultz of the Tri-City Jewish Center in Rock Island led Sunday’s traditional service. A great portion of the service was in Hebrew, with Lipschultz and Bertenthal guiding the group through prayers and songs.
“Today, I am asking you to live by the words: This is our country. We do not let this happen here. We are better than this. We’re better as a people,” Lipschultz said. “We need to find a way to listen to one another, to love one another, and to build this country together.”
Lipschultz said it is customary to begin mourning after burial has taken place and the last victim was buried Friday. Mourning may not begin on Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, he said, which was Friday night into Saturday, so Sunday marked the beginning of mourning.
On Sunday, city officials, leaders of the Jewish and Christian faiths and others lit 11 candles, one for each person killed, and sang, played songs and said prayers in English and in Hebrew.
The emotional service was punctuated with words on the importance of community and opposing hate. Lipschultz said he said he was moved “to the point of tears” by the turnout.
“We’re here for Memorial Service. I want to discuss what that is and what that means, and what I believe it means for me and maybe for us as a people as a whole,” said Rabbi Josh Tannenbaum of Bettendorf. Lighting a candle symbolizes a soul, he said.
“But every event that happens, we need to look at that event and see how we can grow, how we can be a better person — even through tragedy,” he said. “We need to face the fact that hatred exists.
“So how do we replace it? We replace it with good, loving kindness.”
He said it is important for people to remember what good is and what it means to be a good person.
“If you read stories about all the victims, they all talk about their smile, how happy they were,” he said.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen hate, he said, and we don’t need to wait for another such act. “The time for action is now,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, said that even in 2018, Jewish families in many parts of the world still wonder if they are safe because of rising anti-Semitism.
“We gather this evening because we know our togetherness is our strength,” she said. “Hate has no place in our community or in our country, and we will not stand by and allow anti-Semitism, racism or bigotry to divide us.”
Rock Island Ald. David Geenen, 7th Ward, echoed her sentiment.
“Rock Island is a city that stands on the side of love rather than hate,” he said. “Rock Island is a city that stands on the side of tolerance and acceptance, not bigotry and anti-Semitism.”
Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch said the two most destructive words in our language are “those people.”
“It’s important that we deal with (a) situation where it becomes a ‘we’ people environment,” he said. “That’s the crux of the issue.”
He said seeing participants from both sides of the river, all different denominations and social-economic groups, was encouraging.
“We need one of these not for this occasion, but we need this type of meeting on a regular basis,” he said, “getting us all together to understand how much alike we truly are.”