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Message of unity, strength, faith on anniversary of synagogue shooting

A woman stands before of Stars of David

A woman stands before of Stars of David bearing the names of those killed in the October 27, 2018 deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. Credit: AP/Matt Rourke

With a security guard on hand, members of Chabad of Port Washington on Saturday commemorated the anniversary of the slaying of 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue, sending a message of unity, strength and faith.

Rabbi Shalom Paltiel echoed a message of defiance heard throughout Jewish history, from the pogroms of Russia to the German Holocaust to that massacre in the Tree of Life Synagogue last year: That Jews will continue to thrive despite these acts of hatred.

"These people were snuffed out just because they have the title 'Jew,'" he said. "We're resolved to be stronger."

The Port Washington temple joined in a day of remembrance with many houses of worship across Long Island and beyond. Paltiel said these victims of anti-Semitism had become holy, and he made a point of calling out the names of those gunned down while worshipping at Tree of Life.

"We need to do our part to remember," the rabbi said. "Our prayers for them count. Their souls live on. We don't want them dying in vain."

More than 100 members of the temple, recited ancient prayers in Hebrew asking God to increase the peace in this world.

Chabad member Arnie Herz, 57, said he attended to make a statement — that Jews would continue to stand up for freedom and tolerance.

"We're not going to allow someone's hatred to dictate how we live our lives," said Herz, of Port Washington. "We have goodness to bring into this world, and we're going to do it."

Daniel Zarabi, 43, lamented the rise of anti-Semitic violence. He said it was important for people to remember these events.

"We quickly forget things," he said. "These things, unfortunately, are happening more often."

Fern Cohen, 78, said the Tree of Life killings brought to mind the horrors of the Holocaust. 

"These people were connecting with their Jewish heritage, and just for that reason they were killed," said Cohen, of Sands Point.

She recalled that during the recent Jewish High Holidays, the synagogue felt the need to hire armed guards to protect the congregation.

"It's pretty horrible that we have to have armed guards at Jewish events," she said.

As she sat on a bench in the temple, Cohen emphasized that such evil acts represented a threat that extended beyond the Jewish community. 

"I think we're all one community," Cohen said. "And anything that threatens anybody in our community threatens us all."

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