Close to 500 people from Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities crowded into JW3, London’s Jewish Community Centre last night to hear Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, British Home Secretary Sajid Javid, communal and interfaith leaders speak at a vigil for the 11 members of the Jewish community brutally murdered in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan told the audience that the attack on innocent civilians at the Tree of Life Synagogue had been one of “unspeakable hatred”. He added: “Whenever and wherever antisemitism rears its ugly head, it must be confronted, tackled and defeated. Because the consequences of indifference have been, and always will be, devastating.”
Also speaking at the vigil, jointly organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and JW3, was Home Secretary Sajid Javid who reassured the audience that, despite the Pittsburgh attack, the threat level for UK Jews had not changed. Javid called the vigil “a sad, sobering, but essential event”, before quoting an old Jewish Proverb: “Together, we will respond to darkness, with a lot of light.”
Board Of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said: “This weekend, I encourage all of you to show up for Shabbat and attend Synagogues to show our defiance and pride. We cannot take away the pain of this attack, but we can honour the memories of those who have had their lives so brutally taken, by fighting for a better future.”
Jessica Weinberg-Neiss, who grew up in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh and had her batmitzvah at the Tree of Life Synagogue, said: “This man has violated my home. He has ripped open and defiled my sacred space and it will never be the same again.”
The event was chaired by Board of Deputies Chief Executive Gillian Merron.
JW3 CEO Raymond Simonson who instigated the vigil, working with Board of Deputies colleagues to put it together within 24 hours, spoke of the importance of partnerships both within the Jewish community and across other faith groups and communities. Quoting a traditional Jewish text that teaches us that “a community is too heavy to carry alone”, Simonson told the packed auditorium and the thousands watching the livestream around the UK that “this community is carried by all of our hands together. And through our partnerships, we can be stronger to defeat hate and build community”.
A candle was lit for each of the victims of the attack and, following the vigil, Sadiq Khan and other participants wrote messages in a condolence book which will be sent to the Tree of Life Synagogue.
Among those speaking and lighting candles were the Chief Rabbi and other denominational leaders including Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenburg of Masorti, Rabbi Danny Rich of Liberal Judaism, Fiyaz Mughal of, the founder and director of Tell Mama UK, Hannah Rose, the President of UJS, US Ambassador Woody Johnson and Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev and Community Security Trust Chief Executive David Delew and the JLC’s Claudia Mendoza. Anglican Bishop Graham Kings read out a message from Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
You can watch a recording of the vigil here
Photo: Gary Perlmutter