Local synagogue honors Pittsburgh victims

The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh faced the deadliest attack on the American Jewish community on Oct. 27. Days later, the gunshots were still being felt at a Thousand Oaks synagogue of the same name.

Temple Etz Chaim held a vigil on Oct. 29 in wake of the mass shooting in Pittsburgh two days prior. Roughly 500 people attended in order to honor and pay respects to the 11 victims and those affected by the tragedy. Although the word “chaim” translates to “tree of life”, the two synagogues do not share any formal connection.

The service lasted for an hour and was filled with speeches, songs and prayers. Rabbi Richard Spiegel spoke at the event, reading aloud the names of the 11 victims at the start and end of the service. “When I heard about (the shooting) it was horror, a feeling of horror that this could happen,” Spiegel said in an interview.

The vigil was planned on a short notice and was not largely publicized. However, Spiegel and others who planned the event felt as though the community needed to come together in order to support the Tree of Life synagogue. “(The vigil) was just a sudden thing… but you could see by the turnout that there was a great need in the community,” Spiegel said.

Among those who attended were local elected officials Julia Brownley, Jacqui Irwin and Claudia Bill-de-la-Peña. Bill-de-la-Peña gave a speech at the vigil, expressing her concern with mistreatment against the Jewish community. “To see that anti-semitism is alive and well in this country is awful,” Bill-de-la-Peña said.

Mark Goldstein, VP Social Action at Temple Etz Chaim, believes that by attending community vigils, elected officials spread a powerful message. “(Elected officials) represent that there is power in diversity… it comes from our country’s motto ‘E pluribus unum’, meaning ‘Out of many, one,’” Goldstein said. A member of the Conejo Valley Interfaith Association, Goldstein noted that people of many different religious backgrounds congregated at Temple Etz Chaim to show support for the Jewish community. “(Their attendance) made us feel very good that we were cared about so much by the greater community,” Goldstein said.

Although the shooting did not take place locally, the Conejo Valley has seen a recent increase in anti-semitic hate incidents. At least three graffiti swastikas have been found in Newbury Park over the last two years. In summer of 2017, a Hitler speech was blasted from the NPHS loudspeakers, causing disruption in the neighborhood. Goldstein believes that these incidents need to be given greater concern. “(These incidents) are hugely impactful to the community, and there was no community response to them whatsoever,” Goldstein said.

Above all, the organizers and speakers at the vigil wanted to spread a message of hope and growth. Bill-de-la-Peña reflected this sentiment in her speech. “I pray for you. I pray for the victims. And together, we can prove to everyone that love trumps hate,” Bill-de-la-Peña said.