Yahrzeit candles memorializing the 11 victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation flicker during the service at Temple Beth-El. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Three days after a gunman killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue, members of San Antonio’s Jewish and other faith communities gathered at Temple Beth-El to honor the victims’ memories and comfort each other.

Senior Rabbi Mara Nathan of Temple Beth-El estimated 1,500 people, who filled the sanctuary and an overflow room, came to lend their support.

“I knew we were going to overflow,” she said. “We had a feeling. Not only because the Jewish community would feel compelled to be here, but [because] our Muslim friends, our Christian friends, our Sikh friends would want to be here with us. There is a very strong interfaith community in the city.”

Many faith and political leaders attended the gathering Tuesday evening, including U.S. Reps. Will Hurd (R-Helotes) and Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio). Castro said he wanted to show his support for the local Jewish community and was heartened to see such a large crowd at Temple Beth-El.

“It shows you the outpouring of love and support among San Antonians of all faiths for the Jewish community and the tragedy that the community suffered in Pittsburgh,” he said.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg spoke at the event, sharing a story of the late Bill Sinkin, a community activist and member of Temple Beth-El who worked to desegregate San Antonio.

“That’s the spirit of our San Antonio,” he said. “We believe in the fight for justice and in the power of love.”

The shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue should remind Americans of the consequences of dangerous rhetoric, Nirenberg said.

“Anti-Semitism and racism are not new threats to peace, but a rising tide that we must and will resist,” he said. “Evil has a face, and its name is hate. Anger and fear cannot defeat hate. Only love and compassion can triumph over bigotry.”

A police officer watches as the crowd leaves the memorial gathering.
A police officer watches as the crowd leaves the memorial gathering. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump visited the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh after he suggested Saturday that the shooting may have turned out differently if there had been more protection inside the synagogue. While she’s unsure whether Temple Beth-El will be adjusting its security procedures, Nathan said Jewish leaders would be discussing any potential changes needed in security later this week.

“We’re always looking at our security on a regular basis,” she said. “It’s something we think about to keep our community safe and welcoming.”

Nathan urged attendees to support the Jewish community by speaking up against bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, and all forms of discrimination and hate.

“Our faith is very much about welcoming people in and taking care of everybody, and that’s a message we want to keep and hold on to,” she said.

During the service, two rabbis read short biographies of the 11 people killed Saturday in Pittsburgh, as members of the Jewish campus organization Hillel from colleges across San Antonio lit yahrzeit candles to honor each victim. Rabbi David Komerofsky of Temple Chai led the gathering in saying the Mourner’s Kaddish, a traditional Jewish prayer, to honor those who died.

Harry Levy, chair of the Jewish Federation of San Antonio, said the crowd gathered before him exemplified how much strength San Antonio gives to its Jewish community.

“There is a well-known Hebrew psalm that reads, ‘How good it is for us brothers and sisters to be here together,’” Levy said. “While the reason for our gathering here is not so great, it is moving for me to see all of us together in spirit and solidarity.”

To close the service, attendees together sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” 

This land is your land, this land is my land
From the California to the New York island
From the Redwood Forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

A crowd of around 1,500 attended the memorial gathering.
A crowd of around 1,500 attends the memorial gathering. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report
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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.