The Greater Indianapolis Community Memorial Gathering at the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation (IHC) took place on Monday evening, to honor the Jews killed in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue two days earlier, on Shabbat.
There was standing room only in the over-capacity crowd, and a large presence of police who were not just at the temple to direct traffic.
The first remarks were by the IHC’s Rabbi Krichiver, whose remarks acknowledged the interfaith role the congregation has played in the Indianapolis community in the past.
‘“There are no words that can adequately describe the feeling of gathering here once again in response to tragedy,” he said. “We have held each other up before for our Muslim, our Sikh brothers and sisters, and for many others as our communities have been touched by violence.
"History will say this was the worst attack on the Jewish community in American history.”
Faith leaders from outside the IHC—Muslim, Christian, and Jewish—then came up to the podium and offered consolation and reflection from the perspectives offered by their faith traditions.
Pastor Rob Fuquay of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church talked of the historical role of Christian passion plays leading to mob violence against Jews.
“I bring this up today to say that while we do not know the cause of the hatred behind the perpetrator of Saturday’s violence in Pittsburgh, recognizing that for Christians we have a sad and regrettable past that has contributed to such hatred,” he said. “It compels us to stand together whenever such awful and evil violence occurs. While we cannot undo the past we must build a better future by declaring that when hate targets any, hate targets all.”
Iman Ahmed Alamine, from Masjid Al-Fajr, and the Indianapolis Muslim Community Association, arrived at a similar point as the pastor by taking a slightly different path. That is, he first talked of the violence of the act of Robert Bowers who interrupted the naming ceremony at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Shabbat by shooting congregants, killing 11 and wounding six. Four police officers are among the wounded.
“You have always overcome and you will again” he said, addressing the Jewish history of suffering. “As an imam, as a human, as a Muslim, I will condemn this act in the strongest terms, this act that is not accepted by basic common sense regardless of your religion. We all believe that we are brothers and sisters, whether we accept it or not, our prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, and Moses, and Jesus, [they say] you are all from Adam and Adam is from the dirt. Whoever is human is our brother and sister.”
In contrast to the previous speakers, Rabbi Dennis Sasso of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck didn’t shy away from making points that could be construed as political. And he took on directly the fear-mongering and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that some in the media have speculated helped provoke Bowers to violence, although he stopped short of naming names.
“People often say let us pray, you are in my prayers, and prayers are important that is why we are here tonight but prayer alone is not enough,” Rabbi Sasso said. “The people of Tree of Life Congregation were in the midst of prayer as they were violently gunned down. We need more than prayer. So after our gathering tonight we must leave with a commitment to do, not only to pray.”
He said that the opposite of love is not only hate, but indifference.
“So let us pray for strength and determination and willpower to do instead of merely to pray, to act, to vote, so our world may be safe, and our lives blessed,” he said. “My friends, we must respond to hatred with love. But the opposite of love is not only hatred. The opposite of love is also indifference. Let us not be indifferent to people’s speech, to bigotry, to bullying, to mean and harsh acts. Tolerance of these creates a climate of permissiveness that leads to shameful and tragic consequences. Let us not ignore the proliferation of guns in our country, and the lack of a hate crimes law in our state. We do not need more guns.”
When Sasso said this he received applause that went on for nearly a full minute.
Sasso went on to talk about how George Washington wrote to the Jewish congregation of Providence, Rhode Island that America is a nation that sanctions neither hatred nor bigotry.
“The advance of democracy is neither linear nor guaranteed,” he said. “It ebbs and flows. But if we our vigilant, it advance nonetheless. Let us be vigilant. Tonight let us hope and let us pray. But let us also labor to make America good again.”
Clergy were not the only ones who spoke at the memorial gathering.
Jewish Community Relations Council Executive Director Lindsey Mintz came to the podium to introduce the public officials in the room. She also talked about the persistence of anti-Semitism and the necessity of organizations like the one she heads. She spoke of “how dangerous the world is when anti-Semitism gets a pass.” She also lamented that this is the second such gathering that she has taken part in after the vandalism at the Shaaray Tefila synagogue in July, where a swastika and an iron cross were spray-painted.
Carmel mayor James Brainard talked of the importance of leadership in combating anti-Semitism.
“We must elect leaders—democracy is about the marketplace of ideas—but we must elect leaders who don’t demonize those whose ideas we disagree with,” he said, generating much applause among the crowd.
Indianapolis mayor Joe Hogsett, in his remarks, made similar points, noting the resurgence of bigotry and anti-Semitism in America.
Perhaps the most moving segment came near the end of the memorial gathering.
IUPUI professor Jeremy Price was friends with two of the victims, one of who was critically injured, one who was killed.
“My family and I were members of the Reconstructionist Dor Hadash congregation,” he said. “The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh [was] our communal and spiritual home. We counted among our friends Dr. Jerome Rabinowitz and Daniel Leger. Jerry was a doctor and Dan was a nurse. Both answered the call of their professions when they heard the gunshots and rushed out of the relative safety of the library where Dor Hadash holds Shabbat prayers and text studies in order to aid the dead and the dying in the sanctuary across the hall. They too were shot. Jerry is now dead and Dan is in critical condition. All I can do now is remember.”
There was a notable among those who came up to the podium. That is to say, Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow of Congregation Shaaray Tefila, who offered a unity prayer onstage with Donald Trump at Saturday’s FFA Convention in Downtown Indianapolis, was not one of the speakers, although he did attend the event.
On Monday he did offer his commentary to the Catholic news network EWTN about the leaders of a Jewish progressive group Bend the Arc asking Trump not to visit Pittsburgh until he disavowed white nationalism.
"I’m embarrassed by it because it should not be politicized,” he said.
He was also interviewed by the conservative-leaning Fox Broadcasting Company morning TV show Fox & Friends.
“I will go out there and pray from my heart and that’s what I did,” he told Fox & Friends’ Brian Kilmeade, about his state of mind when accepting Trump’s invitation to appear at the FFA convention.
[Editor's Note: We referred earlier to a Gateway Pundit posting that reported that Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow also offered prayers at a Trump rally in Murphysboro, IL. on Saturday as well, but we took down the post after we could not verify it through any other source.]