By CATHY NARDI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Unity among the diverse community members was the subject of Tuesday’s vigil for the 11 Jewish worshipers killed in Pittsburgh by a white supremacist gunman during services on Saturday, Oct. 27.
The message of solidarity was given to a crowd of supporters who were hard-pressed to fit inside Temple Beth El in Oneonta.
“Tonight we morn the victims,” said Temple Beth El president, Ken Sider. “And we are grateful for your support. Thank you.”
Sider said the Jewish community felt safe in America until recently.
“Remember Charlottesville when they chanted, ‘Jews will not replace us,’” Sider asked. “Well now that has changed to ‘Jews must die.’ Those words were the last thing these people heard before they were murdered.”
Molly M. Swain of Oneonta agreed with Sider. She came to Temple Beth El to show support for the community.
“When you have a leader who looks at Charlottesville with those vile white supremacists and says there are good people on both sides, this is what happens,” Swain said.
The message of a diverse community of caring people standing strong and supporting each other was a common theme among those who spoke. And, whereas difficult times must sometimes be endured, hate eventually destroys its host and kindness triumphs.
A message of healing and solidarity was expressed by Rabbi Molly Karp of Temple Beth El and reiterated by Omar Siddiqi of the Muslim community, Rev. Cynthia Walton-Leavitt of the Presbyterian community, Ani Samten, of the Tibetan Buddhist community and local NAACP President Dr. Lee Fisher representing the black community.
“Thank you all for coming,” Rabbi Karp said. “We don’t often run out of chairs.”
“This has been the golden land, but now it has become a place of hate and fear. Eleven of our brothers and sisters were gunned down in a Synagogue, a place that should be a sanctuary. All of our faiths have a love for humanity at the center.”
The service continued with prayers of all sorts in different languages. The Torah was read and Jewish prayers were sung.
Siddiqi offered a Muslim prayer and said the Muslim community will stand with the Jewish community and stand up against hate and violence.
Samten, a Tibetan Buddhist, came from the Karme Ling Retreat Center to offer support.
“We have all gathered together to honor those who have died in Pittsburg,” Samten said. “We pray for comfort and solace, and we pray for change. A change to a world of compassion and we pray for love to return.”
Walton-Leavitt prayed for peace, and prayed for patience for reconciliation. She said she had a friend who lived in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburg where the gunman killed 11 Jewish people in Synagogue.
Fisher paid tribute to the 11 people killed and asked those attending to remember another group of worshipers who were gunned down in a South Carolina church.
“Today, we not only come together to pray, but to stand up against hate,” Fisher said. “In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ This is domestic terrorism.”
Among the people who attended were Oneonta City Mayor Gary Herzig, and Oneonta councilmember David Rissberger. Otsego County Board Representative Danny Lapin brought his family. Several educators, healthcare providers, business owners and workers as well as students and retirees came from towns and villages surrounding Oneonta to show support for the congregation of Temple Beth El.
“This could have been anywhere, it could have happened in Oneonta,” Herzig said. “We all need to stand up against the hate. We must act, we must vote. Make sure to vote for people who have the ability to unite people, not to divide people. That’s what we can do. That’s the main thing right now. Vote.”