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Hundreds gather for Colorado Springs vigil

Hundreds gathered in Colorado Springs for a vigil in honor of the Pittsburgh victims. (David Ervin)

Hundreds gathered in Colorado Springs for a vigil in honor of the Pittsburgh victims. (David Ervin)

Eleven white roses were sent anonymously to Temple Shalom on October 29 before the community’s interfaith evening prayer vigil.

The vigil was co-hosted by Temple Shalom and Temple Beit Torah in memory of those who were killed at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pa. An estimated 500 people were in attendance with standing room capacity and law enforcement presence.

The tragic news from Pittsburgh reached Rabbi Jay Sherwood as he entered Temple Shalom Saturday to begin Shabbat services.

“The first thing I found quite shocking is that I was not shocked. I am offended that I was not shocked. We have a hatred epidemic and a gun violence epidemic in America.

“The words of the Torah teach us not to stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. It means that we are expected to take action. I don’t want your prayers, I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to work for righteousness, justice and kindness.

“That’s the immunization against the epidemic of hatred and gun violence.”

As the prayer vigil began, Rabbi Sherwood was joined by speakers Daniel Schnee, Temple Shalom president; Jeff Ader, Temple Beit Torah president; Pastor Ben Anderson of Solid Rock Christian Center; and Arshad Yousufi, spokesman for the Islamic Society of Colorado Springs.

Congregants like Danny Schnee recalled painful memories of Kristallnacht and the upcoming 80th anniversary of the infamous event. Schnee’s grandfather survived Kristalllnacht only to be sent to Dachau before immigrating to the US.

“I’m uneasy because our country is at a crossroads. Yet, I see a gallery of people in this room who come in peace, who go in peace, and who will work for peace.”

Brett Watters, deputy chief of staff to Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, spoke on behalf of Suthers:
“This was a tragic weekend in our nation where we saw reprehensible hate crimes against the black and Jewish communities, including an attack and an attempted attack on two places of worship.

“Such crimes are disgusting acts of cowardice and I want to personally express my deepest condolences to all who grieve; both here in Colorado Springs and across the nation.

“The Constitution of the United States expressly protects our right to religious freedom and the City of Colorado Springs is committed to upholding that precious right.

“Let it be known that this city will not tolerate acts of racial, religious or ethnic prejudice and those who would commit such acts will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey recounted his experience in 2016 as a participant in an ADL national counter-terrorism seminar in Israel.

Carey was selected as one of 12 high-ranking American law enforcement officials for the seminar designed to learn from Israel’s experience with counter-terrorism and law enforcement.

“I’m proud of the relationship that our police force has with the faith-based organizations throughout Colorado Springs and I’m honored to be here with you tonight.”

Carey reassured, “we will be relentless in our work and we will use the resources of every first responder and law enforcement agency in this community.”

Reflecting on the significance and impact of the experience in Israel, Carey said, “what we ignore, we ultimately accept.”

Other community leaders in attendance included Richard Skorman, president, Colorado Springs City Council; Bill Murray, Colorado Springs City Council member; Pete Lee, District 18 state representative; Mark Snyder, former mayor of Manitou Springs; Temple Shalom member Marcy Morrison, former Mayor of Manitou Springs and former Colorado insurance commissioner; Stephany Rose Spaulding, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church and chair, UCCS Dept of Women and Ethnic Studies, and candidate for US Representative (5th District); and Colorado Springs Deputy Police Chiefs Vince Niski and Mark Smith.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick attended the vigil “to find solidarity in the grief I was feeling about the Pittsburgh tragedy. As a result, I came away feeling hopeful for our community and more determined than ever to vote my conscience.” Kathleen and her husband, John Poss, are members of the Black Forest Lutheran Church.

Kindergarten teacher Patti Cantwell, who is a member of Pulpit Rock Church, commented, “It was inspiring to see so many people of different faiths come together to support one another and stand together in this time of grief.”

Deborah Sarna, Temple Shalom education director, indicated that several parents of religious school aged children have questioned “whether it’s safe to send their children to religious school. They want to know if I am ever scared.”

Sarna counsels them to remember Rabbi Sherwood’s comments that “we must stand up to hate, we must stand up for our children, and we must stand up together. I’m more afraid by the idea of us not coming to synagogue.”

Chabad Lubavitch of Southern Colorado opened its doors to the public on Oct. 28 to provide an avenue to grieve together and stand in solidarity against hate.

The interfaith gathering held a service led by Rabbi Liberow including the lighting of 11 candles in memory of the victims in Pittsburgh.

“We were created by G-d to be different and because of that, we are tested,” Arshad Yousufi, spokesman for the Islamic Society of Colorado Springs said.

He reminded the community, “when we see hatred, stop it with your hand. When we see hatred, stop it with your tongue. And when we see hatred, stop it with your heart.”

As Temple Shalom and Temple Beit Torah’s interfaith vigil came to a close, 20 clergy representing a wide range of faiths lit candles as attendees read the Kaddish.

“We must never let hate and fear impede our march toward peace and righteousness. We will walk out of this darkness and continue to be a light unto the nations,” Rabbi Sherwood said.

Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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