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Pittsburgh shooting victims honored at large Amherst event

An assembly of Western New Yorkers estimated in excess of 500 gathered Sunday evening – in the words of Rabbi Samuel Barth – "definitively" and "defiantly" to honor the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

The all-faiths event, titled "A Gathering of Hope and Healing," was hosted by the Buffalo Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Relations Council at Temple Beth Tzedek in Amherst.

A standing-room-only gathering, which included several people sitting on the floor at the front of the room, watched a program of approximately 90 minutes which consisted of spiritual readings and musical selections to honor those murdered and injured at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill.

Eleven people were killed and six others injured in Saturday morning's shooting, which is believed to be the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.

"We chose very definitively, and I’d like to say even defiantly, we chose that we would come together in this, a sanctuary, in a community of faith," said Barth, a rabbi at Temple Beth Tzedek. "There are other places that we could have chosen … but this is a sanctuary.

"And in these recent times, that word sanctuary has an extraordinary resonance for us. It casts our minds back to the legendary times of the Middle Ages, when a place that was a sanctuary was a place of safety.

"In thinking about our 11 brothers and sisters, two of the brothers cousins of a member of our congregation here, we know, we are reminded that, too many times, sanctuaries of synagogues and churches and mosques and gurdwaras – they have not been allowed to be the places of safety that we aspire for them to be.”

The event was billed by organizers as one where "people of all faiths, backgrounds and ages across the Buffalo community are invited to join together" and that was evident in the list of speakers and the Western New Yorkers who were present.

The packed synagogue had Sikhs in turbans sitting alongside Jewish men wearing yarmulkes. Speakers included representatives from Catholic, Muslim and Sikh faiths as well as the NAACP. State Sen. Michael H. Ranzenhofer delivered the "Prayer for Our Country." Several attendees participated in lighting candles for the 11 lives lost.

"We are overwhelmed everyone's presence here, some of you have come because you can't stop the tears from flowing, some of you come in support of the Jewish community, some of you have come just because you don't know what else to do," Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein of Congregation Shir Shalom said in his opening remarks just after those gathered were joined in song.

"If I could, I would go up to each of you and welcome you with a hug and a kiss and tell you that it matters that you came. In times like this, we don't know what to do. For the last 24 hours, leaders in the Jewish community and beyond have been struggling with, 'How do we respond to such a tragedy?' This is a tragedy that has been repeated over and over again and now has come to the doorsteps of the Jewish community.

"I have to tell you, it means a lot that you are here. I see friends of mine from all different religious persuasions, from all different sectors of Buffalo. And it really, really matters. It matters that you're here."

Messages of hope, love and support for the people of Pittsburgh were posted to the tree of life, by the community attending the all-faiths event, titled "A Gathering of Hope and Healing," hosted by the Buffalo Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Relations Council at Temple Beth Tzedek in Amherst. (Cathaleen Curtiss/Buffalo News)

Prior to the event, attendees were invited to share any thoughts or sentiments regarding the Pittsburgh shooting via post-it notes that were placed on a wall outside in a lobby, providing "leaves" to a "tree of life."

Organizers said there was an added security presence at the event and lauded the Amherst Police, Buffalo Police as well as the Buffalo office of the FBI for communicating with the local Jewish community in the wake of Saturday's shootings.

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