Hundreds gathered Monday evening in Baton Rouge to grieve and show their support following Saturday's mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that has left members of the Jewish community both here and across the country searching for light during a dark time.
An estimated 500 people of all faiths crowded into Beth Shalom Synagogue on Jefferson Highway, offering their prayers and mourning during a memorial ceremony — one of thousands taking place around the world this week in honor of the 11 worshipers killed at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday when a gunman opened fire while yelling anti-Semitic rhetoric. The shooting is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history and has raised concerns about the current divisiveness in American politics.
"We cannot allow the time-borne message of hatred and its accompanying actions to destroy us as a nation. This should not be a part of American life," Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said during the service. "But know that we as a community share your loss and grief because of the single garment of destiny that binds us together."
Broome said she hopes the memories of the lives lost in the shooting can be "a blessing to those who work for peace — those who seek out unity and … all who put their faith into action."
Others who spoke during the ceremony emphasized the power of love to bring people together in the wake of tragedy and allow them in that moment to raise their voices against hate. And they noted with conviction that "God is on our side."
"The enemy has not defeated us in our age old quest for love to defeat hatred," Rabbi Natan Trief, who leads Beth Shalom Synagogue, told the gathering. "When we gather like this, we prove beyond any possible doubt that God exists and that we make manifest of God's love. … That is something that no hateful and no cowardly murderer can deny — ever."
The ceremony included the lighting of 11 candles in honor of the 11 victims.
Rabbi Jordan Goldson, who leads Congregation B'nai Israel, recited the names of the dead and then asked participants to stand and join him in reciting the mourner's Kaddish, reading in unison and allowing their voices to fill the room in praise of "the One who creates harmony on high."
In recognition of lives lost to gun violence, the assembly also recited a special prayer asking God to "give shelter under the wings of your presence to the souls of these individuals whose lives were taken far too soon. And may they find rest on your wings in the knowledge that we, their neighbors, their survivors, will not forget them."
The Rev. Robin McCullough-Bade, executive director of the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge, closed the ceremony with an image she said illustrates the process of fighting hate with love: the power of water to erode rock.
"Sometimes that rock of hatred and of violence feels as if it has that final word. But when I came in here and saw the beauty of this room — this movement of love and of goodwill and of kindness — (I knew) that the one who has created all of us … blesses us here," she said. "May we go beyond this place to encourage each other that we may be instruments of Shalom — of peace in our world."