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Long Islanders gather in temples Sunday to honor Pittsburgh shooting victims

Residents come together Sunday at Kehillat Shalom Synagogue

Residents come together Sunday at Kehillat Shalom Synagogue in Cold Spring Harbor to mourn the victims of the shooting at a Pittzburgh synagogue that killed 11 people on Saturday. Credit: Newsday /Howard Simmons

Hundreds of Long Islanders gathered in Jewish temples Sunday to share in collective grief and call on others to help “repair a broken world” after a suspected shooter who said he hated Jews opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 people.

“It was especially important to come to a synagogue today,” said Rabbi Alysa Mendelson Graf, of the Port Jewish Center in Port Washington. “To walk through the doors, not be afraid and stand together and say this is home and you will not scare us away from our home and our place of sanctuary.”

Jews, Christians and Muslims crowded into sanctuaries in Plandome, Cold Spring Harbor and elsewhere on Long Island, filling them with song, prayer and emotion in the wake of the killings at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

Inside the standing-room-only sanctuary of Kehillath Shalom synagogue in Cold Spring Harbor, 11 memorial candles burned in the center of the temple stage to honor the “martyrs” and “holy souls” killed in the attack.

“We will raise each other up. We will comfort each other. We will move on to repair the broken world we live in,” said Rabbi Lina Zerbarini.

Tom Lieber, an Oyster Bay resident who grew up attending Tree of Life, said the service “hit home in a powerful way” and buoyed him, even in a time of sorrow. The Kehillath congregant used to live within walking distance of Tree of Life, had his bar mitzvah there and still has relatives in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

“We feel bereft, but we also feel like our communities have joined in this kind of ceremony,” said Lieber, a 63-year-old attorney. “It makes us feel very comforted.”

In New York City, people also gathered in places of worship to decry the nation’s latest mass shooting.

“We will create a society of decency and respect no matter what it takes,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told members of the Bethel Gospel Assembly in East Harlem Sunday morning — the first of several public events of the day addressing the attack that also left six injured.

De Blasio said the shooting was not reflective of the true values of the country and New York City. “That’s not America to me. That’s not what we believe in. That’s not what we accept,” he told a packed auditorium.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Sunday directed that flags on state government buildings be flown at half-staff on Monday until sunset on Sunday in honor of the Pittsburgh victims and those shot at a supermarket in Jeffersontown, Kentucky.

Cuomo, citing the past week, which also included the attempted political bombings sent to prominent Democrats, including several in New York, said in a written statement: “In this hour of darkness, we must unite and not divide — and we must stand together against the corrosive and destructive forces of hate.”

Suspected shooter Robert Gregory Bowers, who entered the synagogue heavily armed, later told police that he wanted all Jews to die, according to charging documents.

About 300 people gathered in The Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore in Plandome to honor the victims. Local religious leaders from the Islamic Center of Long Island, St. George’s Episcopal Church in Hempstead and several other institutions linked arms and sang a moving rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” first in English and then Hebrew.

At the song’s end, Stanley Strauss, 73, dried his eyes.

“We have to show a community united,” said Strauss, of Port Washington, “and that we’re not going to let hatred win.”

— With amNewYork

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misnamed Tree of Life Synagogue on one reference.

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