Vigil held in Waterford for Pittsburgh victims

Waterford — More than 100 people gathered for an evening of mourning at Temple Emanu-El Sunday night, singing songs of peace and reading poems to grieve for the 11 people killed when a gunman opened fire at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday.

Congregations from both Temple Emanu-El and the Beth El synagogue in Waterford gathered as Rabbi Marc Ekstrand of Temple Emanu-El proclaimed an overarching message of hope and love in the wake of tragedy.

Ekstrand, who grew up in Pittsburgh, explained that Saturday’s tragic news arrived to his congregation in the middle of its weekly Shabbat worship service.

“We had that news and we couldn’t do anything but cry,” he said. “We had to carry on with the rest of our service. … But there was still a heaviness hanging, and we thought maybe, we just needed to gather tonight and see what happens.”

“Tonight is about giving some framework to how we are feeling,” he said.

Congregation Beth El Rabbi Rachel Safman also spoke at Sunday’s gathering, expressing thoughts of mourning before reading a poem she wrote the previous evening.

“To see a congregation engaged in parallel with our own in Shabbat prayer ... and to have that sacred space turned into a bloodbath is something that I still believe is still beyond any reckoning,” Safman said.

“It comes as a source of heartbreak, but not of shock to us, that at some point in time, our luck might come to an end. And that this protective barrier … might fall and render us vulnerable,” she said.

In a poem, Safman read, “Bring down the peace that reigns in the heavens to heal our broken hearts and make your presence known again for all those who have gathered in prayer.”

The shooting followed a number of mass shootings across the country over the past few years.

“We are gathered in the wake of what may be the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history. Other times it has been African Americans, or Sikhs, or Muslims, or members of the LGBTQ community, or too many others,” Ekstrand said. “What we know is this, that the fabric of our nation is fraying.”

Ekstrand read the names of all 11 victims killed in Saturday's attack. The victims included intellectually disabled brothers and a husband and wife. The youngest was 54 and the oldest was 97, according to the Associated Press.

“We mourn as one people, with all people of conscience. We are in need of healing,” Ekstrand said, before ending the service with both congregations, as well as members of Waterford Police and Fire Departments, coming together to hold hands and sing in unison.

“If we build this world from love, then God will build this world from love,” they sang.

An additional community wide “Prayers for Pittsburgh” vigil will be held at Temple Emanu-El at 7 p.m. Monday. The public is invited.

m.biekert@theday.com

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