Comfort in numbers on Solidarity Shabbat

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A mourner wears a Star of David around his neck at the Squirrel Hill memorial service for the victims of the shooting at the neighborhood’s Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Oct. 29.
Photo by Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images, LightRocket via Getty Images

Shabbat at Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria was a mixture of the unusual and the routine.

Unusual because more than 600 people showed up for morning services, substantially more than what the synagogue draws on a typical Shabbat, according to Rabbi Steven Rein. Members who rarely attend were there. Unaffiliated Jews showed up. And so did members from nearby Westminster Presbyterian Church and Alfred Street Baptist Church.


Routine because other than the crowd, the prayers were said in their normal order, a boy became a bar mitzvah and read from the Torah, and attendees congregated afterward for a Kiddush lunch — although they had to break out extra whitefish and tuna to feed the large crowd.

Around Greater Washington, as across the country, congregations saw filled pews and overflow crowds last Shabbat, a week after a gunman shot 11 Jews to death at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. A culmination of a week of vigils and memorials, this Solidarity Shabbat needed little urging from the hashtag #ShowUpForShabbat issued by the American Jewish Committee and picked up by the Anti-Defamation League and locally by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington to bring worshipers from many religions to synagogue.

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Some 89 area synagogues participated, according to the American Jewish Committee.

“It’s shown that there are far more individuals interested in not just showing support for the Jewish community, but for plurality and diversity than there are individuals of hatred and bigotry,” Rein said. “Unfortunately, it just takes one intolerant individual to shake up and rattle the masses of loving people.”


At Temple Emanuel in Kensington, congregant Abigail Hoffman read “A Prayer for the Tree of Life Synagogue” by Alden Solovy, a poet and Reform liturgist. An acrostic that spells out “Tree of Life Pittsburgh,” it begins, “Tree of Life / Revive our souls / Enrich our days / Entreating Your blessings.” Hoffman’s brother is Rabbi Jonathan Pearlman of New Light Congregation, which is housed in the Tree of Life building and three of whose congregants were murdered on Oct. 27.

“I’m a shy person by nature. But I felt like going up there and saying words of hope and thoughtfulness, I thought it was really important to share that message,” Hoffman said this week.

As she read the piece, Rabbi Warren Stone saw that many in the overflowing crowd were moved to tears. Stone said he felt “the enormity of the moment and of the sadness.”

Rabbi Gilah Langner of Kol Ami Northern Virginia Reconstructionist Community said she saw parallels between Solidarity Shabbat and the week’s Torah portion, in which Abraham buries his wife Sarah. The Torah reading spoke not only to the burials in Pittsburgh, but to the love Jews have felt from non-Jews in the past week, she said.

Not only had some familiar faces returned to Kol Ami, but some congregants had brought friends of other faiths. And members of nearby churches had come to show solidarity.

Many, Langner said, wanted to be surrounded by other people. “It felt very, very good just to not be alone.”

Rabbi Jonathan Maltzman ended his Shabbat morning sermon at Kol Shalom in Rockville with hope. But first he took the congregation into the mind of an anti-Semite.

“It’s like ‘The Twilight Zone,’ where a guy discovers he’s in someone else’s dream or someone else’s nightmare,” Maltzman said.

“That’s what anti-Semitism is. We’re trapped in someone else’s nightmare,” he explained. “The anti-Semite constructs a fantasy world in which the Jew becomes the embodiment of all that frustrates him, all that makes him feel powerless.”

The words of hope: “The worst thing we can do in the face of anti-Semitism is to stop being Jews.”
More than 40 foreign diplomats attended a Friday night service at Adas Israel Congregation, according to the American Jewish Committee.

Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington held two services Friday night to accommodate the thousands who lined up in the rain, The New York Times reported.

Washington resident Robert Granader was one of them. Arriving in line a half-hour early, he never reached the front.

“The line was young, white and black, some kippot, some bare,” Granader wrote of his experience. “Most were not on their phones, they were talking with the people around them. At first they talked about whether they would get in, when might the rain stop. But soon it turned to, ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Have you been here before?’

“It was a group of random people waiting in a line to get to a place they would likely never see. But even on this rainy night, they were content to stand and wait and talk,” he continued. “I never made it in. But I was there.”

And he got what he came for: “The camaraderie and community that one needs in a time of crisis.”

Managing Editor David Holzel contributed to this article.

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