As darkness fell Friday, a south Minneapolis synagogue slowly filled with people — so many, in fact, that they spilled out of the sanctuary into the vestibule and beyond.
Outside, scores of interfaith allies holding candles formed a protective circle around Shir Tikvah’s entrance, welcoming the solemn worshipers headed inside.
“We are here to be your light in the darkness,” said Julie Madden, a lay staffer at St. Joan of Arc Community in Minneapolis, which sent dozens of its congregants to support their Jewish neighbors one week after the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. “A tragedy that befalls any faith community affects all of us.”
This particular Sabbath would represent much more than a holy day of rest for Minnesota Jews. It marked the first Shabbat since 11 people were mowed down in their own temple by a gunman shouting anti-Semitic slurs. For many, it offered the community’s first opportunity to mourn, and to demonstrate in overwhelming numbers that terroristic acts cannot break its spirit.
“There is no manual for how to deal with this,” said a tearful Senior Rabbi Michael Adam Latz. “For each of you tonight who felt like it was a small act of courage and defiance to show up, who may have even been a little frightened, we are grateful for your presence.”
Around the world, Jews and their allies are filling synagogues this weekend for services in solidarity and grief with the survivors in Pittsburgh. The movement quickly snowballed on Twitter, where calls to #ShowUpForShabbat were answered at home and abroad.
Shabbat is typically observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening. Most synagogues hold multiple services on Saturday morning, including bar and bat mitzvah rituals and prayer services.
By the time the sun set on Shir Tikvah, more than 50 non-Jewish supporters had lined the sidewalk offering messages of love.
Sarah and Jason Matlock of St. Paul huddled with their three daughters, ages 8, 7, 5, as they clutched candles. “This community does not stand by itself,” said Sarah Matlock, who wept quietly alongside her girls. “It can have its privacy, but I don’t want them to think they are alone when it comes to grief.”
The Matlocks, who have Jewish relatives out-of-state, spent the weekend having a difficult conversation about the kind of hatred that could explode in such violence.
“We need to teach them that friendship and love will stop the hate,” Jason said. “We want them to be a beacon of love.”
Jewish congregants expressed appreciation for their supporters’ presence. Rabbi Debra Rappaport walked around the circle shaking hands to thank those who turned out.
“It’s just a beautiful showing of support,” said Jeff Lewin, a longtime member of Shir Tikvah, a Reform synagogue just blocks from Lake Harriet. “As it gets darker and darker, the lights get brighter and brighter — kind of a metaphor for our time.”
Lewin had anticipated a big turnout Friday, but his spirits were lifted further by what quickly became a standing-room-only crowd. “It’s turning out for each other that gives us all hope,” he said.
Interfaith allies were invited inside for Shabbat services, where many sang and prayed alongside their neighbors.
The service’s nearly two hours of song and prayer included blessings for a same-sex marriage and a newborn baby. But it was also tinged with sadness.
Emmy and Dan Higgs Matzner had been excited for the traditional baby-naming ceremony for their 6-week-old son, Rafa. But knowing that the Pittsburgh shooting erupted during a baby-naming struck a chord. “This is our home,” Emmy said.
Rabbi Latz told congregants that what happened in Pittsburgh “is shocking but not surprising.” He denounced anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant tropes and rhetoric in political discourse.
“We have political leaders — both here in Minnesota and in the highest offices in the land — who are engaging in unbelievable, immoral, repugnant hate speech directed against Jews and Muslims and immigrants and asylum-seekers and trans people and people of color, ” he said before the service began.
Citing other recent mass shootings, including the 2015 Charleston church rampage that left nine black parishioners dead and a 2012 attack at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that killed six, Latz said, “This is a pattern of terror that is as old as America.”
He encouraged Americans to stand up to hate in all its forms. “We keep going, even as we carry our grief,” he said.
“One of the insidious aspects of anti-Semitism and racism is that it makes us feel alone,” Latz said, as congregants wiped their eyes. “But we are not alone.”
It was not the first time the community has come together in response to a hate crime. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) recorded 28 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 and 17 so far this year, including vandalism and harassment. Last year, the Twin Cities was one of the regions targeted in a string of bomb threats called in to Jewish institutions nationwide.
The JCRC spent last Shabbat reaching out to Jewish leaders to coordinate added security. Security had already been a priority for Jewish places of worship over the past couple of years.
Friday’s service concluded with a solemn reading of the names of the Tree of Life victims and recitation of the mourner’s kaddish.
“We remember,” Latz said. “We remember.”