Community

Cedar Rapids faith communities mourn for Pittsburgh shooting victims

Seeing synagogue filled brings solace to Jewish congregation

Susan Liddell of the Unity Center of Cedar Rapids lights a candle Friday night in memory of Rose Mallinger, one of those killed in the Pittsburgh shootings last week, as other members of the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County look on during the Shabbat service at Temple Judah in Cedar Rapids. The temple invited community members to join the weekly service, during which they lit candles in memory of those who died in the Tree of Life shootings. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Susan Liddell of the Unity Center of Cedar Rapids lights a candle Friday night in memory of Rose Mallinger, one of those killed in the Pittsburgh shootings last week, as other members of the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County look on during the Shabbat service at Temple Judah in Cedar Rapids. The temple invited community members to join the weekly service, during which they lit candles in memory of those who died in the Tree of Life shootings. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — More than 100 people filled Temple Judah’s synagogue Friday night, representing themselves and other religious communities, in a show of support following the most deadly anti-Semitic attack in American history.

Leaders from the city’s Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Unity, Baha’i and humanist communities took turns lighting 11 funeral candles, one for each of the people killed last weekend when a gunman opened fire during a baby-naming ceremony in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Federal authorities have charged Robert Bowers, 46, with the slayings. He has pleaded not guilty.

Temple Judah Rabbi Todd Thalblum said he was shocked and in disbelief when he first heard of the shootings.

In the aftermath, Thalblum said he wondered about the heavy burden the families have had to bear in preparing their loved ones’ funeral.

“I’ve been thinking about it all week,” he said. “Each funeral takes so much time, so much effort. Eleven of them in one week is just unthinkable.”

During the ceremony Friday evening, religious leaders lit one of the shiva candles, which stay lit for seven days after a person is buried as a reminder of their memory.

Joe Diner, a member of Temple Judah’s board, attended the service with Jillian Diner, his wife and president of the congregation, and their toddler, Max.

He said news of the shooting was particularly distressing because his parents were recently at a baby-naming ceremony in eastern Pennsylvania.

A military child, Diner said the layout of the Tree of Life is similar to a lot of synagogues — including Templer Judah — where his family worshipped as they moved around.

“It’s very visceral because you know exactly what goes on there, exactly what was happening,” he said. “So to imagine that being interrupted (with) an attack like that, it’s just horrible because it’s not something ‘foreign.’ It feels very real for that reason.”

Temple Judah reviewed its security measures, and Cedar Rapids police arranged extra patrols in the temple’s southeast Cedar Rapids neighborhood, often having officers take lunch in their cars while parked in the temple’s parking lot this week.

Thalblum said the risk level for the Cedar Rapids temple hasn’t changed much this week, partially due to the relative safety of the area and also due to Cedar Rapids community members reaching out, asking how they could help the congregation feel safe.

Shabbat services usually draw a few dozen people weekly, Diner said, so seeing nearly every seat filled Friday night gave him solace.

“On Sunday and Monday, we didn’t know what we were going to do, and we didn’t know if anyone would show up,” he said. “We didn’t know if the non-Jewish community was going to care about it. ... I’m kind of blown away by how many people are here.”

The evening service was one of thousands across the country that memorialized those who died last Saturday.

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“I was already thinking of that moment for our community, trying to give Cedar Rapids the chance to mourn this tragedy, because it’s affected all of us,” Thalblum said. “It’ll be interesting to see if I get the sense that the whole world is doing that, too.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; dan.mika@thegazette.com

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