About 1,000 people gathered outside De Hirsch Sinai Temple on Capitol Hill for a vigil in honor of the 11 Jews murdered in Pittsburgh. Another 2,500 attended the indoor vigil.
Last night about 1,000 people gathered outside Temple De Hirsch Sinai on Capitol Hill for a vigil in honor of the 11 Jews murdered in Pittsburgh. Another 2,500 attended the vigil inside. RS

The headline on this post comes straight from the mouth of a young woman searching for the end of a line that began last night at the doors of Temple De Hirsch Sinai on Capitol Hill and stretched for blocks.

In all, an estimated 3,500 people gathered for a vigil called to honor the 11 Jews murdered on Saturday morning during Shabbat services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Anti-Defamation League is describing the attack as the largest massacre of Jews in the history of the United States.

The young woman tossed the "And you say there are no Jews..." joke at her husband, who was dutifully carrying a child in a BabyBjörn and looking a little skeptical about the likelihood of actually getting into the temple. They didn't end up making it inside. By 7 p.m. De Hirsch had filled to capacity. But the large number of people remaining outside prompted organizers to hold an outdoor vigil in addition to an indoor service, giving everyone a chance to reflect on the events of last Saturday and the week of violence that preceded it.

Outside, faith leaders, politicians, and members of different Jewish communities talked through a bullhorn or a bad microphone—it was hard to tell through the crush of the crowd. "Your presence here is the first step in transforming the memory of their lives into a blessing," said Rabbi Aaron Meyer, speaking of the Pittsburgh dead.

The mood shifted easily between contemplative silence, joyous singing, humorous asides, and somber prayer. The names of the dead were read aloud, and the crowd repeated them back.

Gov. Jay Inslee called for leaders to "speak against fear, rather to use it."

"Silence is complicity, and we will not be silent," he said.

Father Mark Ryan of St. James Cathedral spoke, too, but people had a hard time hearing him and the Seattle crowd was unafraid to ask him to raise his voice. "This is the first time ever that someone has asked a person of the cloth to speak louder," Rabbi Meyer quipped.

In a rousing moment, Rabbi Meyer said, on behalf of Fr. Ryan: "The tree of life has been struck at its roots, but with hope... and, yes, even forgiveness, life and not death will get the last word. A man blinded by bigotry must not get the last word here." Later on, he led a chant. "Let there be acceptance and love. Let them hear you in Pittsburgh! Let there be acceptance and love!"

Rabbi Josh Weisman, a rabbinic fellow with Kavana cooperative in Queen Anne, said the shooting in Pittsburgh was "a shock to all of us."

"For American Jews," he continued, "America has been a relatively safe place—relative to the places where our grandparents, great grandparents, great-great grandparents came here from. This is a terrible blow to our sense of security in what has become our home."

Rabbi Weisman also noted that the people killed in Pittsburgh "were gathering to celebrate Shabbat, and they were reading a portion of the Torah that talks about our first ancestors—Abraham and Sarah—and specifically, a moment when they welcome some strangers. The strangers are God, or God's messengers, but it seems that Abraham and Sarah didn't know that, at least not at first. They displayed the most generous hospitality those whom they saw as complete strangers. So these attacks really were an assault not only on the Jewish people, but on the Jewish value of welcoming the stranger."

To carry on the memory of the dead and to oppose the hatred that fueled the violent acts against them, Rabbi Weisman said we must "continue to live by those values of welcoming strangers, welcoming immigrants, welcoming refugees... and continue to act in solidarity with marginalized people," adding that "there are many opportunities to do that in the upcoming election."

Kim Schrier, the Democrat running against Republican Dino Rossi in Washington's 8th Congressional District, huddled among the crowd during the vigil. She's Jewish, and her grandparents fled Europe as anti-Semitism was on the rise there in the early part of the 20th century. "There has always been hatred, there has always been racism, there has always been anti-Semitism, but it's been emboldened and given a platform under this administration," Schrier said. "I think we all need to stand up for justice and for love, and to combat hate wherever we can. And that's what I see tonight."

The desire to stand up for justice drove two local Muslim women, who both gave their names as Ann, to attend the vigil in solidarity. "These times present us with what the Black Panthers used to call heightened contradictions," one of them said. "Times when everything is under the surface, and enough people are comfortable enough so they don't encourage us to look at these deep-seated patterns in our culture—nobody is called to make a choice. Coming out tonight was my saying I need to make a choice, I need to take a stand, I need to act."

Jaswinder Singh, a member of the Sikh community from Kent, also came to show interfaith support for Jewish communities. He said he was so happy to see people fill the inside of the temple and spill out into the street. "It's hard to say anything with such a tragedy," Singh said. "Let's build more bridges between communities, and educate each other. We're the strongest when we're united."

Inside, Rabbi Daniel Weiner of Temple De Hirsch Sinai led a somber yet invigorating vigil, playing acoustic guitar to accompany sung prayers, presiding as yahrzeit candles were lit for the 11 dead, and calling on the full synagogue to rise and recite the ancient Mourner's Kaddish. He also welcomed more than a dozen fellow religious and political leaders to speak.

Father Michael Ryan, who'd had trouble being heard outside, was loud and clear inside as he expressed his understanding that the Jewish response to tragedies such as Pittsburgh comes laden with the truth of the Holocaust and, before that, thousands of years of often persecuted existence. Rivy Poupko Kletenic of Seattle Hebrew Academy delivered a moving tribute to Squirrel Hill, the Pittsburgh neighborhood where the mass shooting occurred. And Reverend Kelle Brown of Plymouth Church drew the loudest "Amen" as she both sang and spoke her prayer for justice—justice for Jews, justice for African Americans, justice for all groups targeted by hate and violence.

As Governor Inslee, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, Seattle Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, and many other local leaders sat in the front rows, several rabbis and Jewish leaders spoke of what they said was the core Jewish value.

Not surprisingly, the core value differed a little bit depending on the speaker.

But the general theme was the same, and was well expressed by one speaker who quoted a famous saying by a celebrated Jewish rabbi known as Hillel.

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

If I am only for myself, who am I?

And if not now...

The crowd, expressing an eagerness to both mourn and move toward action, finished the sentence in unison.

If not now, WHEN?