Hundreds attend Tree of Life Synagogue vigil

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Hundreds of people, representing a multitude of faith traditions or no faith at all, gathered together in solidarity outside the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island to mourn the loss of life to hate and gun violence at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on Saturday. Holding candles and finding solace together, the crowd filled the small section of Elmgrove Avenue the Providence Police Department had blocked off for the vigil.

The vigil began with music:

“I am so moved to see this many people, from so many walks of life, coming together in strength,” said Mitzi Berkelhammer, chair of the Jewish Alliance of greater Rhode Island. “To comfort one another, to grieve and ultimately, to heal.”

“Even as our hearts grieve and we pray for healing may we find the strength to take action to repair our world,” said the President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island, Rabbi Sarah Mack of Temple Beth-El. “And through our tears, let us join hands with our neighbors to continue this holy work – For we are nourished and sustained by our loving community on this sad day.

“Look around you. Look at everyone here bearing light. This is how we combat hate.”

“In the spirit of the prophetic tradition of Nathan, I ask our political leaders to be leaders of courage,” said the Reverend Doctor Donnie Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches. “To not kowtow to the powerful moneyed interests like the NRA. To pass meaningful gun legislation that might help mitigate the American tragedy of gun violence.”

“I would like to say, to my Jewish brothers and sisters: When someone expresses hate, bigotry and violence towards you, it is directed at all of us,” said Mufti Ikram ul Haq, the imam for Masjid al-Islam in North Smithfield. “When someone attacks you, they attack all of us. We want you to know that we will always stand by you. And you will always find us by your side, in good times and in bad times.”


“The prophets recall to us the God who makes the blessing of rain fall on the just and the unjust,” said Bishop Nicholas Knisely of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island. “That same God expects us to welcome and care for all who seek sanctuary and safety.”

“The Catholic Church,” said Father John Kiley, the interfaith officer for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, “decries all hatred, all persecutions, and all displays of antisemitism directed against Jews at any time and anyone.”

Jakob, Hannah and Albin Wells and Sarah Grill, students from Squirrel Hill, lit a candle for each of those those murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue as Rabbi Barry Dolinger and Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser read the names aloud.

“As we gather here tonight, it is hard to look out at all of you and not be hopeful,” said Adam Greenman, CEO of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. “Out of tragedy has come greater unity.”

Inside the building, said Greenman, were tables set up where vigil attendees interested in doing more could learn about the Refugee Dream Center, Dorcus International Institute, the Anti-Defamation League, Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence and Moms Demand Action.

The vigil ended with music:

[Note: At one point a speaker at the vigil was loudly interrupted by a man claiming offense. I cut that man out of my video.]

Jakob, Hannah and Albin Wells and Sarah Grill

Sarah Mack
Jeff Goldwasser
Donnie Anderson
Ikram ul Huq
Nicholas Knisely
John Kiley
Adam Greenman

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About Steve Ahlquist 1059 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.