Jewish community reacts to shooting

MIDDLEBURY — Members of Addison County’s Jewish community are showing solidarity — and considering new security measures at their North Pleasant Street meeting place — in the wake of an Oct. 27 mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 worshippers dead and six injured.
The suspect in the case — 46-year-old Robert Bowers — was arraigned on Monday and charged with 29 felony counts, including 11 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder and 11 counts of obstruction of the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death.
Armed with an AR-15 and three handguns, Bowers is alleged to have entered the Tree of Life Congregation this past Saturday and unleashed gunfire while reciting a hate-filled diatribe against Jewish people.
Politicians, clergy members and citizens have condemned the act, while Jewish people in Pittsburgh and beyond have begun the healing process.
Gov. Phil Scott on Sunday ordered flags at all state facilities flown at half-staff through Oct. 31.
“Yet again, America is faced with heartbreak and grief following the horrific violence that took place at a synagogue in Pittsburgh,” Scott said in a statement. “This tragedy was fueled by anger, hate and ignorance — sentiments that do not and cannot define us.”
Locally, members of Havurah, the Addison County Jewish Congregation, held a meditative gathering Sunday afternoon. About 50 people attended — many of them non-Havurah members, according to Sarit Katzew, director of education and program and outreach coordinator for the group.
“The community at large was wonderful in showing their support,” Katzew said,
Katzew addressed the issue of security in an email to the Independent.
“The leadership has met and will be meeting to discuss plans going forward,” Katzew wrote. “I’ve met with local law enforcement and am working to address safety concerns raised by our members. That is the number one priority right now.”
She added Havurah officials are considering events, workshops and other responses to the Pittsburgh tragedy during the coming days.
Sadly, the Havurah congregation has had past experience dealing with intolerance.
Nearly two years ago someone scrawled two swastika symbols on the front door of the Havurah House.
Havurah as of Tuesday had sent out a few short statements regarding the Pittsburgh tragedy to its membership and local Hebrew School families.
One of those statements read, in part, “We are all deeply affected by this tragedy that has befallen the American Jewish Community. We hold the victims and their families in our hearts … The Havurah community’s needs and concerns will inform the steps we take to increase building safety and to respond in various ways to this tragedy.”
Mark Orten, Middlebury College’s dean of spiritual and religious life, wrote a letter to the college community on Sunday expressing his thoughts about the incident and its aftermath.
“It is difficult to put into words the anguish and heartbreak so many of us feel at the horrific killings at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh on Saturday,” he wrote. “It was an attack on the Jewish people, on the spirit of our nation, and on humanity itself.”
Orten added, “We are not and can never be a perfect community, but we are a community united by firm belief in human dignity, and we stand against all acts of hatred and violence including, in particular at this time, acts motivated by religious bigotry and anti-Semitism. We stand with all of our Jewish companions, families, friends, and neighbors in their right to be safe without defense, and to conduct their religious observances in peace.”
Others added their voices to the chorus, among them Middlebury Selectman Farhad Khan, acting president of the Islamic Society of Vermont.
“Our family and the Islamic community of Vermont is outraged and horrified, and deeply saddened by the hateful shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue,” Khan wrote in a statement. “Hate against one is hate against all. It is imperative that people of all faiths stand up and condemn all such acts of terror. We stand to protect the sanctity of all houses of worship. The loss of innocent lives anywhere in this country and globally is despicable and intolerable.”
Katzew said well-wishers throughout the county have asked how they can help Havurah. And they can do so by supporting renovations to the Havurah House. The house — a donation from the Lazarus family — needs as estimated $30,000 in upgrades. Deteriorating shingles on the rear portion of the building need to be replaced by a long-lasting standing seam roof. Worn floor tiles and carpeting on the ground floor must also be switched out. Roof fascia boards on the front porch need to be repaired.
Folks able to donate to Havurah’s capital campaign should log on to tinyurl.com/y7of7b8j.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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