Days after the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, in which 29-year-old Omar Mateen killed 49 people in an Orlando gay nightclub, Jewish communities large and small are taking the first steps in addressing the outrage, sadness and vulnerability that the attack provoked.
“I’m so broken in so many ways,” Cantor Jacqueline Rawiszer, who serves as co-clergy for the Congregation of Reform Judaism in Orlando, said on Tuesday. “I’m struggling to fathom what’s happened. There’s my anger at the ability that this can happen. There’s my empathy for the victims and their families. Deep down, despite all atrocities, we pick ourselves up and try to repair the broken world.”
Rawiszer said Sunday’s tragedy has touched her entire congregation. And while she does not know anyone who was killed or wounded, she said several of the congregation’s members frequent Pulse.
She spent time talking with 12-year-old students to help them understand what has happened.
“I think it’s important to recognize with young people, especially with social media, this is the kind of thing that reaches people at many different ages,” she said.
In Washington, the pain felt in Orlando has resonated strongly in the Jewish community. Rabbi Gil Steinlauf of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, who is gay, said, “It hit home for me personally on so many levels as a member of the LGBT community. As a rabbi and a Jew, there was a deep sense of sorrow and understanding in that our people have been the target for many generations of terror and brutality.”
Steinlauf said that in times of crisis, the most important action for people to take is to show solidarity with LGBT individuals, just as they would when any other marginalized group is attacked.
“When the community stands shoulder to shoulder with the community of victims in any terrorist attack, that strengthens the country as a whole,” he said.
There were also heavy hearts among members of Congregation Bet Mishpachah, an egalitarian synagogue that has become prominent within Washington’s LGBT community. Noah Wofsy, director for community affairs, said the congregation had a booth set up at the Capital Pride Festival in Dupont Circle last weekend. On Sunday, “there were people who came up to our booth who just said, thank you.”
Halley Cohen was getting ready for the Pride Parade when she heard about the shooting. She described Sunday as “horrible and also a day full of kindness,” bringing out both a sense of community and feelings of vulnerability.
“It’s very easy to get in the flow of pride,” said Cohen, director of GLOE, the GLBTQ outreach program of the Washington DC Jewish Community Center. “And when you have this place [the Pulse nightclub in Orlando] that was a sanctuary that was torn away — that could have been us.”
The official Jewish community was closed for business from Friday night through Tuesday for Shabbat and the Shavuot holiday. On Tuesday, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington joined a list of national Jewish organizations in condemning the mass killing and calling for unity.
“The rising tide of extremism and violence lence, around the world and here in the United States, is profoundly disturbing and reiterates the threat of terrorism to the entire free world,” the statement said.
“We mourn for those murdered, offer our condolences to their families and pray for a swift recovery of the injured. All Americans were attacked, but the LGBT community was targeted. We stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ and entire Orlando community.”
A commemoration event is scheduled for Thursday, June 16, at Adas Israel Congregation, 2850 Quebec Street NW, in Washington.
Steinlauf said his congregation plans to organize in favor of stricter gun laws — a cause the congregation named as one of its top priorities earlier year.
Gun control was also on the mind of Rabbi Jack Luxemburg of Temple Beth Ami in Rockville.
“It is shocking that once again, people in our country are gunned down by persons [who have] obtained weapons that are only designed for the killing of other human beings,” he said.
In addition to his desire for policy changes, Luxemburg also made a plea for people to choose their words carefully.
“We should be mindful of the importance of how we speak to each other,” he said. “If hateful rhetoric contributes to acts of violence and we want to reduce acts of violence, we [need to increase] language of respect, inclusion and protection of everybody’s life and well-being.”
WJW staff members Justin Katz, Jared Feldschreiber and David Holzel contributed to this article.
Rainbows and glitter sparkle at Pride Shabbat
by Michele Amira
“Over the Rainbow” is considered the LGBTQ anthem, and at National Pride Shabbat services on Friday at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington it was sung with a twist — in Yiddish.
“It’s quite empowering to sing it at Pride as LGBTQ Jews,” said Rabbi Laurie Green of Congregation Bet Mishpachah, who led services with Rabbi Shira Stutman of Sixth & I.
The service came a day before Washington’s Pride Parade and two days before gunman Omar Mateen shot to death 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
More than 250 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and straight Jews gathered for the service.
“I initially came to the Pride Shabbat because, as a gay-identifying Jew, it intrigued me,” said Eli Mizmor, who accompanied “Over the Rainbow” on violin.
A happy hour preceded the service. Participants mingled in a glitter-strewn room, drinking fair-trade Israeli wine and eyeing gay pride swag, including unicorn-themed posters and balloons, as well as stickers with messages like, “I Love Nice Jewish Queers, I Schvitz Glitter.”
At the service, Stutman addressed God with the words of Rabbi Ayelet Sonya Cohen, is a leader of LGBTQ Judaism: “You have given us the strength to witness and create wonders, to be who we are, not only in the safety of our home, but outside in the light of the world, to live as Jews in the embrace of the community, to sanctify our unions and to celebrate ourselves before each other and before You.”