Before the candles were extinguished, Rabbi Yossel Kranz gave a directive to the crowd of about 200 people who gathered in Henrico County on Sunday night to mourn the 11 lives lost in Saturday’s mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
“Do not do so before making a commitment to add to the light in this world,” Kranz told an overflowing room at Chabad of Virginia Community Synagogue. “Do not lower that candle before you decide ... what good deed, what act of kindness you’re going to do to increase the goodness and love in the world. And not allow — heaven forbid — the light of Judaism, the light of humanity, or the light of God, to be dimmed by hatred.”
Sunday’s gathering was the first of two community services planned in the Richmond area in response to one of the worst acts of anti-Semitic violence in American history. The alleged shooter, Robert Gregory Bowers, had a history of anti-Semitic social media posts and is now facing federal hate crime charges.
An interfaith service open to the wider Richmond community will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Weinstein JCC.
As police officers kept watch Sunday, a group of Jewish leaders led a diverse crowd in a memorial prayer service focused on grief, honoring the dead in Pittsburgh and finding comfort in times of trouble.
“The Jewish people are first and foremost family. We’re spread out all over the world, but we’re a family,” Kranz said in an interview. “So an attack on a Jew anywhere is an attack on a Jew everywhere.”
The service included several biblical readings, including a passage from Psalm 23.
“Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness, I fear no harm, for You are with me,” the audience recited together.
David Hoover, a retired Baptist minister who works with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, said he attended the service as a show of support for his Jewish friends.
“It’s just such a shame that we have this kind of spirit in people who want to kill innocent folks,” Hoover said. “But I’m grateful that there is still hope. And that people will come out in large numbers to recommit themselves to bringing peace and light and shalom in the world.”
The service drew several Henrico political leaders, including Del. Debra Rodman, a Jewish elected official who said she saw “members of many faiths who came together tonight with messages of love and support.”
“In the face of anti-Semitism, we came together to mourn,” Rodman said. “We came together to reject hateful rhetoric and violence.”
Abigail Spanberger, a Democratic congressional candidate running against Rep. Dave Brat, R-7th, huddled with other attendees in the back of the room after the service.
“I think it’s important for everyone to stand up and denounce violent acts like that,” Spanberger said. “And show support for a community that is hurting.”