About 1,000 people of different faiths gathered in solidarity at a Los Altos Hills synagogue on Sunday in response to the murderous Oct. 27 rampage at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, synagogue.
An anti-Semitic man killed 11 people and wounded six others at the Tree of Life Congregation in what has been called the deadliest attack against Jews in U.S. history. The shootings stunned the Bay Area Jewish community, and as the barest of details spread, people were sure of one thing: They needed to be together, local faith leaders said on Monday.
At Congregation Beth Am synagogue, an estimated 25 to 30 leaders of multiple faiths, including Hindus, Muslims and Christians, joined together to declare a message of unity against hate. Some prayed. They wrote hundreds of letters of support to the Pittsburgh congregation.
Rabbi David Booth of Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto took part in the vigil. He said his congregation will spend the week penning thousands of additional letters in support of the Tree of Life Congregation. He is afraid of the hate mail the Pittsburgh congregation might receive and wants to offset it, he said.
He was walking to prayers on Saturday morning when a congregant rushed up to him with news of the Sabbath massacre. Booth and others had scant information at the time, nor would they know for hours what exactly had occurred since as conservative Jews they don't use cellphones or computers during the Sabbath, he said. But eventually he saw the images of the crime and its aftermath.
"There was glass on the floor of the synagogue," he said. "Now it's our job to help not just repair that building, but (with) compassion and love ... help repair what's been shattered in those people's lives and in our whole community."
Rachel Tasch, executive director at Beth Am, said her synagogue is still reeling from the outpouring of support.
"People just came in in droves. The whole community just seemed to come together," she said on Monday. In addition to the 1,000-plus people who attended the vigil, countless others watched it being livestreamed, she said.
Elaine Sigal, executive director of Congregation Kol Emeth, said that one teenager stood out among the vigil's speakers.
"She said she's sure her generation will be able to step up and fix the things that are broken in the world. ... It was incredibly moving," Sigal said.
Among non-Jewish participants, Samina Sundas, founder of American Muslim Voice Foundation in Palo Alto, said she was deeply moved.
Herself a target of anti-Muslim sentiment after the Sept. 11 terrorism, on Saturday, she sent a letter to Jewish leaders.
"These heinous attacks have no room in America. We must practice and demand a 'zero tolerance' policy for any expressions of anti-black, anti-immigrants, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and targeting sacred places of worship," she wrote. "As Americans, we stand in solidarity with our Jewish cousins and all of our fellow Americans to say, 'We will not tolerate these acts of hate, bigotry and violence.'"
Reached by phone on Monday, she added: "We should not wait for these tragedies to unite us. Every day we have to reach out to each other. The Liberty Lady (Statue of Liberty) promises something so beautiful in America. But I don't recognize that promise now. We have gotten so far from that."
The Pittsburgh synagogue was the latest place of worship to be targeted in recent years. A white man shot and killed nine black people on June 17, 2015, at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and on Nov. 5, 2017, a gunman killed 25 people including a pregnant woman and injured 20 others at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Rev. Kaloma Smith, pastor at Palo Alto's University AME Zion Church, held interfaith gatherings centered around racial and ethnic reconciliation after the Charleston massacre. He attended Sunday's Beth Am vigil and said he will worship this Saturday with Congregation Kol Emeth. He reflected on the changing sense of safety in sacred spaces because of the murders.
"I think Charleston was very much a shock to our system," he said Monday. "No tragedy is greater or less. But we are seeing it more often. We have a profound issue in this country."
These crimes cause an incongruity to arise between the safety, security and welcome of a house of worship and the fear of a violent invasion, he said.
"It shatters the idea of a sacred space. You go in, and now you're looking at the back door," he said.
The dangerous climate has caused faith leaders to consider how to better protect their congregations. On Monday, Smith attended a meeting in San Francisco that focused on sacred spaces and safety. And last month, Tasch said she attended a meeting regarding enhanced safety at synagogues.
The violence is changing the way synagogues are being designed, Kol Emeth's Booth said.
"The new Jewish Community Center building is a good example of building in different ways, with limited points of entry to see who is coming in," he said.
Synagogues are putting in video cameras and security entrances and security systems, as has the Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto, he added. Such added security measures can be costly.
"The JCC has a whole security staff. The burden it creates for the community is significant," he said.
The first building Congregation Kol Emeth constructed in the 1960s had an open campus with easy access. But leaders grappled with how to design a new synagogue that is in the works in Palo Alto, seeking to create a sacred space that is not like a fortress but is still a protected space.
Ellen Bob, executive director at Congregation Etz Chayim in Palo Alto, said her synagogue has enhanced its security protocols but it is "committed to not decreasing our activities in any way."
Like leaders of other synagogues, Bob declined to elaborate on security details. But perhaps the greatest security is the strength of the communities themselves. Bob, who ran the store "bob and bob" in downtown Palo Alto that sold Jewish goods for 25 years, said her son had cautioned that the store's large plate-glass windows were vulnerable to being smashed by anti-Semites.
"Nobody ever threw rock at the windows. That's Palo Alto; that's the community we live in," she said of acceptance of other faiths.
On Saturday morning, a man who introduced himself as "Ali" approached her outside of the synagogue to offer condolences, she said.
"It was so reassuring. What happened in Pittsburgh only reflects one person who did something (horrific). In the context of things, in the end, it was one man. We are not inherently less safe than we were a week ago," she said.
People in her congregation are "sad, scared and a little defiant," she said of the massacre. But "we're not going to let this guy stop us from being Jewish."
On Tuesday, speaking at the Athena Awards in Palo Alto, Judy Kleinberg, president and CEO of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, echoed the need for the community to step up and commit to changing the narrative of hatred.
"Look around you. Look how diverse we are. This is not a white room. This is not a room where everybody came from Norway. We're blessed to have a lot of diversity and it's the strength of Silicon Valley.
"It's the strength of our community that we can celebrate that diversity. But under the surface lurks prejudice. It's bias, and usually it's learned at home or (it's) somebody that's not ... stable.
"Whatever the reason, we all have to recommit: in our business, in the workplace, in our schools, in our places of faith, in our friendships, when you're sitting around at a dinner table with people you don't know and somebody says something. We have to be the ones to set the standards and the values that are the promise of this country. We have to do that. So in this very sad moment, which is actually a wonderful celebration, I just want a moment of silence where we can think about this terrible tragedy, but also to recommit to what we personally and professionally will do about this," she said.